Harvard Youth Poll

29th Edition
Spring 2016


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 Hillary Clinton the clear front-runner over Donald Trump to win the White House in 2016. Among likely voters, Clinton has 61% of young voters and Trump 25%, with 14% of likely young voters unsure.

The IOP’s newest poll results – its 29th major release since 2000 – also shows that a majority of America’s 18- to 29-year-olds rejects both socialist and capitalist labels. 42% of young Americans support capitalism, and 33% say they support socialism.

“Millennials care deeply about their futures and in this election cycle they are laser-focused on issues like access to educational opportunity, women’s equality and the economy,” said Harvard Institute of Politics Director Maggie Williams. “This survey reflects their passion, their worries and most importantly, a growing awareness that their voices have power.”

“Young Americans are sending a strong message. They care deeply about the future, but are concerned that the current state of our institutions and our politics are not sufficient to meet our nation’s challenges,” said Harvard Institute of Politics Polling Director John Della Volpe. “We hope that in the remaining months of the campaign, candidates from both parties work to rebuild the trust that’s been eroded and inspire Millennials to not only vote, but engage in civic life.”

The KnowledgePanel® survey of 3,183 18- to 29-year-old U.S. citizens with a margin of error of +/– 2.4 percentage points (95% confidence level) conducted with the Government and Academic Research team of GfK for the IOP between March 18 and April 3 finds:

Key Takeaways

In the Past Year, 18- to 29-Year-Olds Net Preference Nearly Doubled for Democrats to Maintain Control of White House.

Young Americans prefer that a Democrat win the White House over a Republican in the 2016 presidential race. More than three in five (61%) prefer that a Democrat win the White House, while 33% prefer a Republican. The divide of 28 points is nearly double what it was in Spring 2015, when the divide was 15 percentage points (55% Democrat; 40% Republican). Among young white voters, Democrats now have a 2-percentage point advantage (-12: Spring 2015), among African American voters, that advantage grows to 78 percentage points (79: Spring 2015) and among Hispanics, the advantage is 55 points (41: Spring 2015).

Among Likely Voters, Clinton Leads Trump by 36 Points; Trump Underperforming Among Young Republicans.

Among likely voters, Clinton maintains the same 61% that a “generic Democrat” receives, while Donald Trump receives 25%, 8 percentage points lower than the current “generic Republican” White House preference. Among young Democrats, Clinton leads Trump by 78 points (83%: Clinton; 5%: Trump), but among Republicans, Trump leads by only 44 points (57%: Trump; 13%: Clinton). Among Independents, Clinton has a 23-point lead (43%: Clinton; 20%: Trump), with 36% undecided. Clinton leads significantly with both men and women. Among men, it’s 47% for Clinton, 29% supporting Trump; and the lead expands among women, with 57% for Clinton and 15% for Trump. Clinton has a narrow 6-point lead among 18- to 29-year-old whites (38%: Clinton; 32%: Trump), but polls into the 70s with both the black and Hispanic communities. Among African Americans, Clinton leads Trump 76% to 5%, and among Hispanics, she has a similar-sized lead at 71% to Trump’s 9%.

Majority of 18- to 29-Year-Olds Reject Both Socialism and Capitalism.

When 18- to 29-year-old young Americans were asked whether or not they support socialism, capitalism, and other political theories and labels, a majority reject both socialism and capitalism. Socialism is supported by 33% of young Americans, while capitalism is supported by 42%. Among those most likely to vote, 41% support socialism and 52% support capitalism. Socialism is typically more supported by 18- to 20-year-olds (41%), Democrats (50%), Clinton voters (54%), Hispanics (38%) and African Americans (39%). Capitalism is more likely to be supported by people who have graduated from college (56%), whites (43%), men (49%), people who live in the South (46%) and the West (45%), and members of the GOP (54%).

15% Believe U.S. Headed in the Right Direction; Nearly Half Say Politics of Today are Not Able to Meet the Nation’s Challenges.

By a margin of more than 3 to 1, young Americans believe that things in the nation today are “off on the wrong track.” 15% believe that things are “generally headed in the right direction,” while 47% disagree. An ominous indication for the future, nearly 50% of young Americans agree with the statement “politics today are no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing” (16%: disagree; 32%: neither agree nor disagree).

Nearly 3-in-5 Believe There’s a “Glass Ceiling” Facing Women in America Today; 64% Say Men Have More Advantages.

When 18- to 29-year-olds were asked whether a glass ceiling (a barrier to advancement in a profession) exists for women in America today, nearly three in five (59%) indicated yes. Young women are significantly more likely to believe a glass ceiling exists (68%), compared to men (50%). In a related question, 64% of those polled believe that men have more advantages than women in America today and 7% believe that women hold more advantages (27%: treated equally). Those who are either in college (73%), graduate school (74%), or have already graduated from college (68%), are significantly more likely to believe that men have more advantages than women than those who are in a 2-year college (64%) or never attended (59%). In addition, 75% of African Americans believe men have more advantages, compared to 61% for whites and 65% for Hispanics. When we asked Democrats, 76% believe men have more advantages than women, while less than half (48%) of Republicans agree. Despite these findings, 74% of young Americans believe that if Clinton were to lose in November, there will be a woman president in their lifetime (77%: Male; 72%: Female).

Sanders is Only Candidate with Net Positive Rating, Trump -20 With GOP. 

Senator Bernie Sanders is the only one of the five candidates with a net positive favorability rating. 54% of 18- to 29-year-olds rate Sanders favorably and 31% view him unfavorably (+23 favorable: Net). On the other hand, Donald Trump’s net favorability rating is -57. Among young Republicans, 37% view him favorably and 57% view him unfavorably (-20 unfavorable: Net).

Men and Women Differ on Who Would Improve Women’s Lives the Most.

When asked which of the five remaining presidential candidates would most improve the lives of women, Clinton leads 29% to 25% compared to Sanders, with 32% undecided. No Republican candidate received more than 5 percentage points (5%: Cruz; 4%: Trump; 2%: Kasich). Analyzing the results among men only, Clinton has an 11-point advantage over Sanders (32%: Clinton; 21%: Sanders). When we analyze the responses of women, identifying the candidate who would most improve women’s lives, Sanders edges Clinton (Sanders: 30%; Clinton: 26%).

Dim View of U.S. Judicial System Largely Unchanged in Past Year; Less Than Half Have Confidence That People Judged Without Bias.

Nearly a majority, 47%, of 18- to 29-year-olds indicate that they have no (16%) or not much (31%) confidence “in the U.S. judicial system’s ability to fairly judge people without bias for race and ethnicity.” The vote of no confidence rises to 59% among African Americans and 52% among Hispanics, which are both significantly higher than the 42% of whites who feel the same way. The youngest among the group polled had more confidence in the system compared to those who did not attend or are not enrolled in college and those over the age of 21, both of the latter groups are significantly more pessimistic about the judicial system. 59% of 18- to 20-year-olds have confidence in the judicial system, with 38% having little to no confidence.

U.S. Military Only Institution That Majority Trust at Least Most of the Time; Congress, Wall Street and Media Levels Below 20%.

Whereas trust in the President Obama has increased in each of the last three years and is now at 40%, trust in institutions such as the federal government and Congress remain below 25%, at 23% and 18% respectively. The two institutions tested that receive the lowest levels of trust among 18- to 29-year-olds are Wall Street (11%) and the media (9%). Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats to never trust the media (32%: Republicans; 46%: Democrats). 53% of young Americans likely to vote for Trump say they never trust the media, 22 percentage points higher than those who are likely to vote for Hillary Clinton (31%).

Obama and Congressional Democrats Receive Highest Approval in 5 Years; 72% Believe President Should Fill SCOTUS Vacancy.

Both President Obama and Democrats in Congress have seen their approval ratings increase by 5 percentage points since our last poll was released in Fall 2015. President Obama and Congressional Democrats received the highest approval rating since February 2011. President Obama’s approval rating improved in most major subgroups across the board, with the greatest increases on college campuses (61%: Spring 2016; 53%: Feb. 2011) and among African Americans (86%: Spring 2016; 78%: Feb. 2011).

72% of young Americans believe that President Obama should nominate a justice to fill the current vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. Only 23% say he should not nominate. Among Democrats, 89% say he should nominate and of those, 53% say he should nominate whomever he wants and 36% say he should nominate a consensus pick. 49% of Republicans say he should nominate a candidate to fill the vacancy and of those, 12% say he should nominate whomever he wants and 37% say he should nominate a consensus pick.

7 in 10 Believe They Received a Quality Education; Emphasis on STEM, Smaller Class Sizes, and Increased Teacher Pay Favored.

When asked which was the more important education policy, K-12 or higher education, 65% of young Americans respond that K-12 education is a higher priority. When probed further for the most effective ways to improve public education in the U.S., more emphasis on STEM (52%), smaller class sizes (50%), and increasing teacher pay (46%) were identified as the most effective methods to improve the public education system from a list of 7 policy initiatives that also included free Pre-K (35%), tying pay to teacher job performance (34%), increasing school choice (33%), and standardizing curricula across states (32%). In a related question, an overwhelming majority believes they received a quality education through high school (71%). Among those who are more likely than others to believe they received a quality education are people who live in the Northeast (79%), people who have already graduated college (83%), and those who say they will definitely vote (77%).


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

Five thousand, five hundred and fifty-eight (5,558) KnowledgePanel members were assigned to the study. The cooperation rate was 57 percent which resulted in 3,183 completed interviews included in this report (after data cleaning). One hundred thirty-five (135 ) 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 can be found here and by request to the IOP.