Fall 2020

Harvard Youth Poll

Text reads: "Harvard Youth Poll, 40th Edition, Election 2020, Top trends and takeaways." Collage of pictures, including: voting booth, Harvard Youth Poll students in South Carolina, I Voted sticker, and female student asking question at microphone

October 26, 2020

A national poll of America’s 18-to-29 year olds released today by the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School found historic interest in the upcoming election, with a higher proportion of respondents indicating they will ‘definitely be voting’ than has been observed in the twenty years the poll has been conducted, suggesting higher turnout than has been observed in this age group in several decades.

Young Americans recognize that the issues that impact their day-to-day lives are on the ballot, from health care and mental health to racial and social justice. The unprecedented interest in this election and the significant increase in early and mail-in ballots portend historic turnout,” said Mark Gearan ‘78, Director, Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School. “As this generation becomes the largest voting bloc in the electorate, their notable civic participation is a very good sign for the future.”

Since the Spring 2020 Harvard Youth Poll conducted in March, former Vice President Joe Biden’s favorability has increased to 56% among likely voters, while the percentage who view him unfavorably remains unchanged (41%). This is an increase compared to our Spring 2020 poll where only 34% of all young adults viewed Biden favorably and 47% who viewed him negatively. The poll also found Biden is viewed favorably by 55% of young Hispanics and unfavorably by 28% of young Hispanics, a significant increase since our Spring 2020 survey which saw his favorability draw even at 38% favorable and 38% unfavorably.

Young people have grown up with the fear of school shootings, they’ve witnessed the destructive forces of unchecked climate change, they’ve participated in demonstrations against racial and economic injustice, and they’re hungry for calm, sure-handed leadership,” said Justin Tseng ‘22, Chair of the Harvard Public Opinion Project.

Although Republicans and Democrats are divided on the role government should play in addressing health care issues, young Americans have a strong preference for more increased policy actions to address healthcare issues (72%) and to improve access to mental health services (75%). These preferences cross party lines, with 85% of Democrats, 70% of independent or unaffiliated young adults, and slightly more than half (55%) of Republicans preferring stronger government policies to address healthcare. Although it is not uncommon for politicians to want to eliminate some of the policy interventions of the Affordable Care Act, support for less government intervention in health care is minimal among young Americans, with only 6% overall (and only 8% of young Republicans) thinking government should do less to address healthcare issues than it does now. Support for increased government policy to support mental health services is even greater, with 75% of all young adults, 84% of Democrats, 74% of unaffiliated, and nearly two-thirds (64%) of Republicans preferring greater government measures to improve mental health care access.

Top findings of this survey, the 40th in a biannual series, include the following:

Harvard Youth Poll: Youth turn out and political involvement exceed 2016 levels and approach/may exceed 2008 levels

1. Youth enthusiasm to vote and likelihood of turning out on track to hit record levels in 2020 

63% of respondents indicated they will “definitely be voting,” which remains consistent with the turnout measured in our September 2020 survey, and in contrast to 47% during this same time in 2016. Our 2008 survey was only collected among young adults between the ages of 18 and 24. There were no meaningful differences in vote likelihood between 18-24-year-old respondents to our survey and others. The 2008 election saw the highest youth turnout since 1984, with 48.4% of 18-29 year olds turning out to vote, according to the United States Elections Project, the earliest Census reporting of turnout. The turnout of young voters seems closer to 2008 compared to 2016.

Harvard Youth Poll: Biden’s advantage has increased slightly since September

2. Since September, Biden’s advantage increases to 63%-25% among the 18-to 29- year olds most likely to vote, leading President Donald Trump among all young Americans 50%-26% 

About six percent of young Americans who report they will definitely vote say they are currently undecided. An additional 4% of likely voters report plans to vote for Libertarian Jo Jorgenson, while 2% plan to vote for Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins, and 1% volunteer that they plan to vote for another candidate.  When voters who prefer a third party candidate are asked to make a choice in a two-way race between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, Biden’s total lead increases to 65 – 25.

Harvard Youth Poll: Biden’s favorability has increased since Spring 2020

3. Biden’s favorability has increased significantly since Spring 2020, specifically among young Hispanics 

Joe Biden is viewed favorably by 47% of all young adults, compared to 41% who view him negatively. Biden’s favorability is slightly higher among likely voters (56%), although the percentage who view him unfavorably remains unchanged (41%). This is an increase compared to our Spring poll where only 34% of all young adults viewed Biden favorably and 47% who viewed him negatively. Biden is viewed favorably by 55% of young Hispanics and unfavorably by 28% of young Hispanics, a significant increase since our March survey which saw his favorability draw even at 38% favorable and 38% .

Harvard Youth Poll: Voting Methods: Key Demographics

4. More than half (55%) of young Democratic likely voters intend to vote by mail compared to less than one-third (28%) of their Republican peers 

Among all self-reported likely voters, about 37% plan to vote in person at a polling place, about half (48%) voting by mail or absentee ballot, and about one-in-tem (11%) who report plans to vote early.  Slightly less than one-third (29%) of Biden voters plan to vote at a regular polling place, compared to 57% who plan to vote by mail and 11 percent who plan to vote early but in person.  In contrast, nearly six-in-ten (58%) Trump supporters plan to vote in person on election day, compared to one-quarter (25%) who plan to vote by mail and 11 percent who plan to vote in person.

Harvard Youth Poll: Young Black voters report lower confidence in the election

5. Young black voters report lower confidence that ballots will be counted, and are significantly more likely to report planning on voting in-person on election day, compared to any other group 

Nearly half (49%) of young black voters plan to cast their ballots on election day, compared to 28% who report they plan to vote by mail.  They also have lower levels of confidence that their votes will be counted. Only half (50%) report that they are at least very confident their ballots will be counted, compared to 70% of white non-Hispanic voters.

Harvard Youth Poll: Fewer Biden supporters believe that their candidate will ultimately win the election

6. With 2016 likely still top of mind, fewer Biden supporters believe that their candidate will ultimately win the election compared to Trump supporters

Sixty-three percent (63%) of Biden supporters anticipate that Joe Biden will win the election, with six percent anticipating a Trump win and 30% who say they are not sure.  In contrast, about three-fourths (74%) of Trump supporters expect Trump to win, with only 6% anticipating a Biden victory.

Harvard Youth Poll: Where Young Republicans and Democrats Agree on Action

7. A majority of Young Americans, regardless of political affiliation, agree that the government should have an increased role in improving mental health services and addressing health care issues 

Although Republicans and Democrats are divided on the role government should play in addressing health care issues, young Americans have a strong preference for more increased policy actions to address healthcare issues (72%) and to improve access to mental health services (75%). These preferences cross party lines, with 85% of Democrats, 70% of independent or unaffiliated young adults, and slightly more than half (55%) of Republicans preferring stronger government policies to address healthcare. Although it is not uncommon for politicians to want to eliminate some of the policy interventions of the Affordable Care Act, support for less government intervention in health care is minimal among young Americans, with only 6% overall (and only 8% of young Republicans) thinking government should do less to address healthcare issues than it does now. Support for increased government policy to support mental health services is even greater, with 75% of all young adults, 84% of Democrats, 74% of unaffiliated, and nearly two-thirds (64%) of Republicans preferring greater government measures to improve mental health care access. 

Harvard Youth Poll: Overwhelming support across racial demographics for the government to address racism

8. Overwhelming support across racial demographics for the government to address systemic racism, improve race relations 

There is also a broad consensus among young Americans that the government should do more to improve race relations and reduce systemic racism. Seventy-one percent of all young Americans (including 50% of young Americans who identify as Republicans) support increased government action to improve race relations.  When framed more directly as taking government actions to reduce systemic racism, seventy percent of all young Americans (including 49% of Republicans) think that the government should do more to reduce systemic racism.  This support is broad across all demographic groups, with about two-thirds of white non-Hispanic youth supporting an increased government role improving race relations (67%) and reducing systemic racism (66%).

Harvard Youth Poll: Young Americans have mixed views on government regulation

9. Young Americans have mixed views on government regulation. While young Republicans are slightly more likely to support deregulation, over 1/3 of young Democrats also support deregulation 

Another feature of Republican policy, both through legislation and executive action, is reducing the government regulation toward business.  Young Americans have mixed views on this, and the partisan differences are less clear cut than might be expected. Overall, 36% of young Americans think the government should do more to eliminate regulations on business (including 35% or Democrats), while 38% think that the government should do about the same as it does now and 22% think the Government should focus less on reducing business regulations (including 11% or Republicans). Thus robust attempts to increase regulations on business are not likely to earn great support from young Americans.

Harvard Youth Poll: Young Americans are experiencing more anxiety and less calm, joy, and excitement10. Young Americans are experiencing more anxiety and less calm, joy or excitement than Spring 2019 

Over half of Americans (53%) reported experiencing anxiety in the twenty-four hours prior to taking the survey, making it the most commonly felt emotion and marking a five point increase from the 48% who said so in our Spring 2019 survey, which was the last time we asked this question. 48% reported experiencing calmness in the twenty-four hours prior to taking the survey (a decrease of 4.4% from Spring 2019), 35% reported experiencing joy (a decrease of 13% from Spring 2019), and 37% reported experiencing excitement (a decrease of 11% from Spring 2019).

Of the topics that unified many subgroups, cost of housing and debt were among the concerns that were impacting their future. Overall, we find that 57% of all 18- to -29- year olds carry debt. Among 18- to 24- year olds, 34% indicate that they have debt, but that it is manageable; an additional 16% tell us they have debt, and it is already affecting important life decisions. Forty percent (40%) of the older, likely post-college age group,, 25- to 29- year old cohort have debt that they say is manageable, while 27% say the debt they carry is affecting life decisions. Additionally, we find members of the following subgroups are more likely than their counterparts to carry some form of debt: black Americans (66%), college graduates (64%), those who live in urban areas (62%), and likely voters (62%). Overall, 63% of all surveyed agreed housing is a concern, including more than 60% of those across gender, racial/ethnic, and education lines. The cost of housing is more of a concern for Democrats (74%) than Republicans (52%), and among likely voters (69%) than those who indicate that they might (60%), or likely not vote (56%).

Harvard Youth Poll: Young Americans are evenly divided on whether their opportunities to success are better than their parents’ generation11. Young Americans are evenly divided on whether their opportunities to success are better than their parents’ generation (36%), about the same as their parents’ generation (29%), or worse than their parents’ generation (34%) 

In contrast, about half of all adults (47%) think they had better opportunities compared to their parents, and only about one-fourth (24%) think they have had fewer opportunities than their parents, according to a poll conducted by CBS News in May. It is not clear whether young Americans have different perceptions of their prospects compared to their parents’ perceptions.  The national CBS survey found that 47% of all adults (including those 18-29) think the “next generation” will be worse off.

Methodology

This poll of N=2,026 18- to 29- year-olds, organized with undergraduate students from the Harvard Public Opinion Project (HPOP) and supervised by Chase H. Harrison, was conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs using the KnowledgePanel Calibration approach. In this approach, the calibrating sample was provided by the KnowledgePanel probability-based sample source (n=1,005), while the sample to be calibrated was provided by non-probability, opt-in web panel sample sources (n=1,021). Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish between September 23 and October 11, 2020. The margin of error for the total sample is +/- 2.18.


Student Chair:
Justin Tseng ‘22
Leadership Team:
Ellen Burstein ‘22 Samuel Lowry ‘23 Henry Austin ’23 Will Matheson ‘22
Akhila Yalvigi ‘23 Jing-Jing Shen ‘23 Kate Gundersen ‘23 Richard Sweeney ‘21 (Chair ‘19)
Members:
Sophia Cho ‘24 Steven Elliott ‘22 Robert Greene ‘24
Erin Guetzloe ‘23 Bryce Hilton ‘24 Samuel Ho ‘24
Seung Hwan An ‘23 Isabella Pena ‘24 Johneth Price ‘24
Daniel Salgado-Alvarez ‘24 Amanda Stickels ‘24 Alan Zhang ‘24
Maia Alberts ‘23 Rajvir Batra ‘22 Alina Hachigian ‘22
Myer Johnson-Potter ‘21  Hafsa Muse ‘22 Rachel Nadboy ‘21
Oliver York ‘21 Jaron Zhou ‘22 Christine Li ‘24
Joyce Lu ‘22 Cathy Sun ‘23