Harvard IOP Summer 2016 Poll

July 18, 2016
Contact: Mary Cappabianca: 617-384-5923
Social Tag: #HarvardIOPPoll


Economy, Terrorism and Reducing Inequality Top Concerns on Eve of Conventions

Cleveland, OH – A new national poll of America’s 18- to 29-year-olds by Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP), located at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, finds there is an emerging consensus among young Americans about their generation’s priorities for the next president of the United States.

After 15 years of polling, focus groups and town meetings, the IOP poll asked members of America’s Millennial generation to rate the issues and topics most important to them personally when electing the next president. Results from this poll show that economic concerns outweigh all, with 64% indicating it is a top priority. Thirty-one percent (31%) of young Americans indicated that improving the economy is the most important issue in 2016, while 21% reported it was second and 12% ranked it third.

Following improving the economy, combating the spread of terrorism was the second most important issue for young Americans (39% indicated this was a top 3 issue), followed by reducing inequality (34%), uniting the country (31%), dealing with immigration (27%) and reducing the role of money in politics (23%). Read the detailed report on the poll’s findings and historic data online at http://bit.ly/HarvardIOPSummerPoll2016.

"As they hold their national conventions, Democrats and Republicans have an incredible opportunity- and what could be one of their last chances to interest, excite and engage Millennial citizens in the 2016 presidential elections. This is not just about responding to their hopes in some distant future; it is about taking them seriously and beginning to address their policy priorities now," said Maggie Williams, director of Harvard's Institute of Politics. The poll also found:

  • Among likely Hillary Clinton voters, the top concerns were: improving the economy (64% indicated this was a top 3 issue), reducing inequality (57%) and uniting the country (30%);
  • Among likely Donald Trump voters, the three issues of top concern were: improving the economy (69%), combating the spread of terrorism (63%) and dealing with immigration (51%);
  • Among Gary Johnson supporters, top concerns were: improving the economy (64%), reducing inequality in America (35%) and uniting the country (35%);
  • For undecided voters, improving the economy (63%) was top again, followed by combating terrorism (35%) and reducing inequality in America (31%).

In addition, the Harvard IOP poll followed up on its April 2016 release, which found that less than half (42%) of 18 to 29 year olds supported capitalism, while 51% opposed it. In this July poll, the IOP asked young Americans to identify the “first word or phrase” that “capitalism” brought to mind. Twenty-seven percent (27%) of young Americans used explicitly negative words to describe capitalism, 15% used words construed as positive and a plurality used words that were coded as neutral (45%).

In the 271 negative cases, young Americans most frequently described capitalism with: “greed” (59 mentions), “corrupt” (19 mentions) and “control” (12 mentions).

On the positive side, 18- to 29-year-olds described capitalism with: “free/free market/free enterprise” (61 out of 152 positive mentions), “good/great” (14 mentions), and “profit” (11 mentions).

“Money” was used 196 times in the remaining 450 mentions and was coded as neutral for the purpose of this analysis. The remaining 128 responses were left blank or individuals indicated that they did not know.

“Should the leadership of both political parties—in Washington and throughout state and local governments—choose to ignore Millennials’ values and principles and only engage them at election time as subgroups in swing states, there is every chance that we will lose their participation in politics and their support of government, paralyzing American progress,” said John Della Volpe, director of polling at the IOP.

The KnowledgePanel® survey of 1,001 18- to 29- year-old U.S. citizens with a margin of error of +/– 3.5 percentage points (95% confidence level) was conducted with the Government and Academic Research team of GfK for the IOP between June 21 and July 3, 2016.


The goal of the project was to collect 1,000 completed interviews with young Americans between 18- and 29- years old.  The main sample data collection took place from June 21 through July 3.  A small pretest was conducted prior to the main survey to examine the accuracy of the data and the length of the interview.

Two-thousand and twenty (2,020) KnowledgePanel members were assigned to the study.  The cooperation rate was 50.5 percent which resulted in 1,001 completed interviews included in this report (after data cleaning). Forty-two (42) interviews were conducted in Spanish with the remainder done in English.  The web-enabled KnowledgePanel® is a probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population.  Initially, participants are chosen scientifically by a random selection of telephone numbers and residential addresses. Persons in selected households are then invited by telephone or by mail to participate in the web-enabled KnowledgePanel®. For those who agree to participate, but do not already have Internet access, GfK provides a laptop and ISP connection at no cost. People who already have computers and Internet service are permitted to participate using their own equipment. Panelists then receive unique log-in information for accessing surveys online, and are sent e-mails throughout each month inviting them to participate in research. More technical information is available at http://www.knowledgenetworks.com/ganp/reviewer-info.html and by request to the IOP.

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Our mission at Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP) is to create the future of politics and public service every day, inspiring undergraduates to lead lives of purpose by committing themselves to the practice of politics and governing, and to public service and the countless opportunities to serve at home and around the world. The IOP was established in 1966 as a memorial to President Kennedy. More information is available online at www.iop.harvard.edu/.  

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