Democratic Gains Dissipate, Youth Vote Back to Swing Voting Bloc

GOP Advantage Emerges as Midterms Approach

The end of the 1990’s seemed to bring good news for Republicans. President Clinton’s 1996 landslide included a 10-point advantage among 18- to 29- year olds, but George W. Bush lost the youth vote to Al Gore by only two points in 2000, and Republicans trailed Democrats by the same in the 2002 midterms. Soon thereafter, the war in Iraq, response to Katrina, disapproval with President Bush and the promise of Barack Obama solidified significant Democratic advantages among young voters from 2004 to 2012 — but today, the decade long advantage for Democrats seems to be nearing its end.

Democratic Share of the Youth Vote, 1982-2012

While more 18- to 29- year-old Americans would prefer that Congress be controlled by Democrats instead of Republicans, the numbers improve dramatically for the GOP when only likely voters are studied. Among likely voters, the GOP turns a 7-point deficit among all 18- to 29- year olds (50% to 43%) into a four-point advantage. Our poll shows that among those who say they are “definitely” voting, the preference shifts, with 51 percent preferring a Republican-run Congress and 47 percent wanting Democrats to be in charge. In 2010, the GOP trailed Democrats in our pre-election poll by 12 points, 55 to 43 percent among likely voters.

What is your preference for the outcome of the Congressional elections, a Congress controlled by Republicans or a Congress controlled by Democrats? Likely Voters Only


Further, compared to the last midterm election of 2010, Democrats are less likely to participate and Republicans more likely. By a significant 12-point margin, 42 percent to 30 percent, young Republicans say they are more likely to vote in November. In the fall of 2010, the margin was 5 points, 38 percent for Republicans and 33 percent for Democrats. Others who are more likely to participate than their counterparts include: college students (31% say they will definitely vote), college graduates (40%), males (31%), Romney voters (57%), Whites (29%) and Blacks (28%) compared to Hispanics (17%).

When it comes to young voters’ assessment of how Congressional Democrats and Republicans are handling specific issues, the trends are similar for the 18- to 29 year old cohort overall compared to likely voters. Asked who is better equipped to handle the economy – which 77 percent considered very or somewhat important in their November decisions – Democrats were preferred overall by a 30 to 26 percent margin. Among likely voters, 39 percent said they trusted Republicans and 35 percent said they trusted Democrats.

On who is better trusted to handle foreign policy, Democrats win, 29 percent to 24 percent. But among likely voters, the GOP held an advantage, 40 percent to 35 percent. On immigration policy, Democrats are seen as better equipped, 32 percent to 26 percent, to deal with the issue but among likely voters, the GOP is seen as the better stewards by a margin of 40 percent to 35 percent.

Democrats win in both race relations and health care. Overall, young Americans report Democrats, by a 34 to 16 percent margin (46% were not sure), are more trustworthy when it comes to race relations. The gap is almost as significant among likely voters, who favor Democrats on the issue by a 40 to 26 percent margin.

On health care, Democrats also prevail among both young voters overall (who say Democrats are better at dealing with health care than Republicans by a 33 to 25 percent margin) and likely young voters (who side with Democrats by a slim 40 to 38 percent margin). This is despite the fact that our poll shows significant unhappiness with President Obama and the Democrats’ most notable health care law, the Affordable Care Act. Young Americans disapprove of the law by a significant 39 to 57 point margin.

Which Party do you trust more to handle the following issues?
(Ranked by Net Democratic Advantage Over Republicans)

Obama Approval Rating Falters Among Young Whites and Hispanics

President Obama has also seen his popularity suffer, with 43 percent of young voters approving and 53 percent disapproving. Presidential approval drops one to 42 percent among likely voters, with disapproval up to 56 percent. Compared to our last poll that was released in April 2014, support for the president is down across the board, but most significantly among the Hispanic and Latino electorate where his approval rating is below 50 percent for the first time in our poll’s history.


Approval Rating of President Obama, 18-29 Year Olds



On issues including the economy, health care, the budget deficit, foreign policy and immigration, we see gaps in the approval - disapproval rate of anywhere between 22 points (health care) to 34 points (the deficit). Only on race relations is the president close to 50 percent with young Americans, 47 percent of whom approve of his handling of the issue, with 49 percent disapproving

Approval Rating for Congressional Republicans Below 25%

While President Obama’s performance has not met the expectations of young Americans of late, neither have the Republicans in Congress. At 23 percent, Congressional Republican approval is approximately half of the president’s (Republican disapproval is 72%). Democrats in Congress hold a significantly higher approval rating of 35 percent, with 60 percent disapproving.

In trends that mirror polling on the electorate at large, young voters are clearly troubled with how Washington is working, and how their elected officials are doing. Asked who is to blame for the political gridlock in Washington, a strong majority (56 percent) said both Republicans and Democrats, or “all of them.” For nearly every demographic, be it party affiliation, income, gender, race, level of education or intention of voting this fall, the answer of “all of them” was a majority or plurality of responses. Among Independents, a full 70 percent blamed the full DC team for Washington’s dysfunction. Among young Americans overall, Republicans in Congress got the second-biggest amount of blame (22%), followed by President Obama (13%) and then Congressional Democrats who were singly blamed by just five percent of voters.

Majority Would Recall and Replace All Members of Congress

A majority of young Americans seem content to dispense with all of Congress, with 53 percent saying they would be willing to recall and replace all members; the number rises to 62 percent when only the most likely voters are surveyed. And despite the old adage that “people hate Congress but love their own representative,” young voters are not much happier with their own member in Congress. Nearly 42 percent said they would recall their own member; 48 percent among the “definite” voters. And again, the distaste runs across party lines, with 41 percent of Democrats, 43 percent of Republicans and 44 percent of Independents saying they would vote out even their own member of Congress. And it is clear why the lawmakers are so unpopular. Asked whom their individual is really representing in Congress, just 10 percent said “their constituents.” Another 27 percent said their member of Congress is representing campaign donors and another 25 percent said the lawmakers were loyal to their own parties first. But the biggest category (one-third) represents a damning view of what young voters think their representative cares about the most: “themselves.”


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