Younger votes still lean toward Biden — but it’s complicated

April 19, 2024


By Christina Pazzanese | Harvard Staff Writer
April 19, 2024

Younger voters turned out in historic numbers to help lift Joe Biden past Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. This year, the match-up is the same, but the feelings are much more complicated.

Gen Z and late Millennial voters (ages 18-29) are more dissatisfied with their choices and worried over kitchen table issues such as inflation and housing. But most still support Biden over Trump, contrary to some earlier polls, and they do still intend to make their voices heard in November, according to a new Harvard Youth Poll released Thursday.

John Della Volpe, the IOP's longtime polling director, said he sees "seismic mood swings" in the results as young people feel "angst" over a host of issues.

"They're deeply concerned … about the direction of the country. They are deeply concerned about their own economic well-being, the cost of housing, inflation, [the] day-to-day cost of living. They're concerned about conflicts around the world," he said. "But at the same time, the choice between Donald Trump and Joe Biden isn't necessarily close."

The poll surveyed just over 2,000 Americans nationwide between the ages of 18 and 29 from March 14-21. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.02 points. Launched in 2000, the Harvard Youth Poll is the largest political survey of young Americans and is administered by the Harvard Public Opinion Project, an undergraduate-run organization.

In a head-to-head matchup, Biden leads Trump by eight points (45 percent-37 percent). Among those most likely to vote, his lead expands to 19 points (56 percent-37 percent). That’s considerably smaller than Biden's advantage in spring 2020 when he was up by 23 points among all young voters and 30 points among likely voters.

When third-party and independent candidates Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Jill Stein, and Cornel West are included, Biden's lead over Trump shrinks from 19 to 13 points among likely voters.

Trump enjoys significant enthusiasm (76 percent) from those who already favor him but can’t seem to garner more than 37 percent of support from young voters.

The outcome of his current criminal trial in New York City, however, could damage that support.

Trump has been charged with falsifying business records to conceal an extramarital affair in 2016 in a case prosecuted by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg '95, J.D. '99. The survey showed that if Trump is found guilty, Biden would get a nine-point bump among likely voters and a 10-point bump among all young people.

Asked whether the country is on the right or wrong track, more than half (58 percent) said the wrong track, and nearly one-third were unsure. Only 9 percent said the country is moving in the right direction, the first time this number was in the single digits in the poll's 24-year history, organizers said. Four years ago, 21 percent said the nation was headed in the right direction.

Some Democrats have voiced concerns that significant numbers of young voters, dissatisfied with their election choices, might sit out the 2024 election. According to the poll, 53 percent say they'll "definitely" vote this fall, compared to 54 percent who said the same and did so in numbers that helped propel Biden to victory in 2020.

Poll results showed that two issues closely associated with under-30 voters — the Israel-Hamas war and student debt relief — may not be especially consequential ones when it comes to casting votes.

Biden gets good marks (39 percent) for his efforts to reduce student debt, and poor marks for his handling of the war in Gaza (18 percent). But young people ranked these as least important among the issues facing the country. The majority said inflation, healthcare, and housing were the top three matters, followed by gun violence, according to the poll.

Confidence in the nation's institutions has plummeted among younger Americans over the last two election cycles. Since 2015, trust in the presidency has dropped 60 points and in the Supreme Court by 55. Wall Street (9 percent) and the media (10 percent) are trusted least, but even the U.S. military, once considered largely above doubt, is now trusted by only 36 percent surveyed.

Photo by Kyle Mazza/NurPhoto via AP

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