YOUNG VOTERS ARE DIVIDED ON THE SCOPE AND STYLE OF CHANGE NEEDED FOR THE NATION
IMPORTANT DIVIDES EMERGING BETWEEN GENERAL ELECTION AND DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY VOTERS ON ENDING PRIVATE INSURANCE, ELECTORAL COLLEGE REFORM, AND GUN CONTROL
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 18, 2019
Media Contact: Kelsey Donohue
Cambridge, MA – A new national poll of America’s 18- to 29- year-olds by the Institute of Politics (IOP) at Harvard Kennedy School finds fifty-two percent (52%) of young Americans and 58% of likely general election voters under 30 believe that President Trump should be impeached and removed from office.
“Young Americans are divided on the scope of change they seek in Washington. Among likely 2020 young voters, pragmatic has taken the lead in the race between pragmatic and progressive,” said John Della Volpe, Director of Polling at the Institute of Politics. “When looking at young Democratic primary voters, bold structural change is preferred, but not by as much as you might think.”
When young Americans were asked to choose between two potential governing philosophies, more (40%) prefer than oppose policies that "stand a good chance of being achieved as opposed to sweeping changes that will be difficult to carry out." Slightly more than a third (34%) prefer the alternative "big structural policy changes that address the urgency of the problems that we are facing, even if they will not be easy to carry out."
Among young Americans who are most likely to vote in the November 2020 general election, we find support for the more pragmatic approach, 44% to 40%.
However, for those likely to vote in a Democratic primary, preferences were reversed. Forty-five percent (45%) of these voters prefer the approach that deals with "big, structural policy changes that address the urgency of the problems that we are facing, even if they will not be easy to carry out," compared to 39% who prefer the more pragmatic position.
“Findings from the Harvard Youth Poll show that young Americans are open to ideas that older generations have traditionally written off. Voters under 30 are not bound by precedent or old institutional norms.” said Richard Sweeney ‘21, Harvard College and Chair of the Harvard Public Opinion Project. “Proponents of structural reforms shouldn’t take young voters for granted, and those who favor a more gradual approach shouldn’t write us off. Millennials and Gen Z-ers will be one-third of the eligible voting population in 2020. We’re listening, and we’re voting.”
The survey of N=2,075 18- to 29- year olds (including n=588 “likely” Democratic voters and n=292 “likely” Republican primary voters) was organized with undergraduate students from the Harvard Public Opinion Project and conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs between October 15 and October 28, 2019. The margin of error for the poll is +/- 3 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level, but higher for subgroups (likely Democratic primary voters 4%, likely Republican primary voters 6%). A more detailed methodology statement is at the end of this document.
More young Americans support dismantling the Electoral College than oppose
In an effort to better determine the kind of structural reforms that young Americans are likely to support, we asked those polled whether or not they support significant changes to the Electoral College, our health care system, the way we deal with gun violence — and whether billionaires should be allowed to exist in America.
Overall, we found 40% of all 18- to 29- year olds in support of dismantling the Electoral College to ensure that the winner of the national popular vote is elected President; 24% opposing this (+16), while more than one-third (35%) unsure. Among likely general election voters, support rises to 48% (28% opposed, +20); and among likely voters in the Democratic primary, support increased to 63% with 12% opposed (+51).
More young Americans support eliminating private health insurance than oppose
Thirty-eight percent (38%) of young Americans support “eliminating private health insurance companies so that all Americans receive health care coverage from the federal government,” 32% oppose it (+6), with 28% unsure. Among likely general election voters, 42% support, 35% oppose (+7); and among likely Democratic primary voters, support increases to 57% with 19% opposing (+38) and 24% unsure.
Majority of young Americans support background checks and assault weapon ban; more support mandatory buyback program for assault weapons than oppose
Three questions were asked related to gun policy, two were supported by at least a majority, and one by a plurality. More than four-in-five (81%) young Americans polled support “requiring universal background checks for all gun purchases,” with less than 10 percent in opposition (8%, +73). Support for background checks increases to +80 (87% support, 7% oppose) among likely general election voters, and +85 among likely Democratic primary voters (90% support, 5% oppose).
Slightly more than a majority (53%) of all young Americans polled support banning the sale of assault weapons, while 30% oppose this policy (+23%). Similar to background checks, support rises to 58% (29% opposed, +29) among likely general election voters. Among likely voters in the Democratic primary, 75% support, while only 15% oppose such a measure (+60).
On the question of whether or not they support “implementing a mandatory national buyback program for assault weapons, which would require gun owners to turn in their assault weapon(s) in exchange for financial compensation,” we found plurality support (+8). In total, 41% support, 33% oppose, and 25% are undecided about such a policy. Holding to the pattern of support increasing among likely voters for gun policy reforms, we found that 44% of likely general election voters support this policy (35% oppose, +9); and 60% support among likely Democratic primary voters (19% oppose, +41).
Most young Americans supportive of billionaires, only 16% don’t think they shouldn’t be able to exist
To measure the intensity of one element of a populist agenda, young Americans were asked whether or not billionaires should exist in America. Only 16% of young Americans disagreed with the statement that “billionaires should be able to exist in America.” Slightly more than a quarter of likely Democratic primary voters (26%) indicated that they do not believe billionaires should be able to exist, with 36% of Sanders voters voicing the same opinion.
Other than a change from the current path, there is no youth consensus for best approach moving forward
Consistent with our tracking data since President Trump assumed office in 2017, a majority (51%) of young Americans believe that the country is off on the wrong track. Approximately one-in-five young Americans (19%) believe that the country is headed in the right direction. At this point in the 2016 presidential cycle, we found that 44% believed things were off on the wrong track and 17% reported things were going in the right direction.
When young Americans were asked their opinions on their preferred pathway for governing moving forward, we found a divided youth electorate. Undergraduates involved in the Harvard Youth Poll used general descriptions of the campaign platforms from the three leading Democratic Presidential candidates and President Trump.
Nearly a quarter (24%) of likely general election voters indicated that the language used by Senator Bernie Sanders is closest to their own view:
"We need to build a movement together relying on the power of organized people taking on organized power in order to achieve needed, lasting change."
Ranking closely behind with 21% each, were common themes used by the campaigns of Vice President Joe Biden:
“We need to defend and build upon the policy advancements made under the Obama administration in order to achieve needed, lasting change."
And Senator Elizabeth Warren:
"We need sweeping, structural changes to our democratic institutions in order to achieve needed, lasting change”
Following closely behind with 19% was the themes commonly used by the President Trump campaign:
"We need to continue on the path we are on now, and I support the vision and policies of the Trump administration toward affecting needed, lasting change."
When only likely Democratic primary voters are analyzed, we find:
- 31% prefer defending and building upon the policy advancements made under the Obama administration in order to achieve needed, lasting change;
- 27% prefer sweeping structural changes to our democratic institutions in order to achieve needed, lasting change; and
- 25% prefer a movement relying on the power of organized people in order to achieve needed, lasting change.
As the election nears, Democrats are becoming more hopeful about America
While a majority of young Americans (56%) tell us they have more fear than hope at this moment about the future of America, we see a marked improvement in the optimism of young Democrats. Last fall, before the midterm election, we found that only 22% of Democrats had hope, 76% fear (1:3.5 ratio). Today, we find that 35% are hopeful, while 65% indicate that they are fearful (1:1.9 ratio).
Two-thirds (67%) of Republicans say that they are more hopeful than fearful about America, a statistical tie with the number who said the same one year ago (64%).
Young Republicans are far less comfortable sharing their political views with professors than Democrats and Independents
When it comes to sharing political views with parents or friends, we find Democrats and Republicans are overwhelmingly, and nearly equally, comfortable in these situations. However, when it comes to sharing political views in a college setting, significant differences emerge: young Republicans are far less comfortable than those who are Democrats or are unaffiliated.
While in most situations the differences between Democrats and Republicans are between 4 and 7 percentage points — when it comes to professors, the gap is 19 points with only about a third of Republicans saying they feel comfortable sharing their political views.
Percent of young Americans between 18- and 29- years-old who are comfortable sharing political views with:
- Parents: 83% of Democrats, 87% of Republicans, 70% Independents;
- Friends: 79% of Democrats, 74% of Republicans, 67% Independents;
- Colleagues at work: 56% of Democrats, 49% of Republicans, 42% Independents;
- Supervisor at work: 47% of Democrats, 41% of Republicans, 35% Independents;
- Professor: 54% of Democrats, 35% of Republicans, 51% Independents;
This poll of N=2,075 18- to 29- year-olds, organized with undergraduate students from the Harvard Public Opinion Project (HPOP) and directed by John Della Volpe, was conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs using the KnowledgePanel Calibration approach. In this approach, the calibrating sample was provided by the KnowledgePanel probably-based sample source (n=1,020), while the sample to be calibrated was provided by non-probability, opt-in web panel sample sources (n=1,055). Interviews were conducted between October 15 and October 28, 2019. The margin of error for the total sample is +/- 3.02% at the 95 percent confidence level.
About the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School
The Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School was established in 1966 as a living memorial to President John F. Kennedy. The Institute’s mission is to unite and engage students, particularly undergraduates, with academics, politicians, activists, and policymakers on a non-partisan basis to inspire them to consider careers in politics and public service.
The Harvard Youth Poll examines the political opinions and civic engagement of young Americans ages 18- to- 29. Since 2000, the student-led Harvard Public Opinion Project has provided the most comprehensive look at the political opinions, voting trends, and views on public service held by young Americans. The Institute blends the academy with practical politics and offers students the opportunity to engage on current events and to acquire skills and perspective that will assist in their postgraduate choices.