April 23, 2021
A national poll of America’s 18-to-29 year olds released today by the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School shows that despite the state of our politics, hope for America among young people is rising dramatically, especially among people of color. As more young Americans are likely to be politically engaged than they were a decade ago, they overwhelmingly approve of the job President Biden is doing, favor progressive policies, and have faith in their fellow Americans.
In the March 9-22 survey of 2,513 young Americans, the Harvard Youth Poll looked at views regarding the Biden administration’s first 100 days, the future of the Republican Party, mental health, and the impacts of social media.
“As millennials and Gen Z become the largest voting bloc, their values and participation provide hope for the future and also a sense of urgency that our country must address the pressing issues that concern them,” said Mark Gearan ‘78, Director, Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School.
“What we see in this year’s Harvard Youth Poll is how great the power of politics really is,” said John Della Volpe, the Director of Polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics. “With a new president and the temperature of politics turned down after the election, young Americans are more hopeful, more politically active, and they have more faith in their fellow Americans.”
“Despite the increase in partisanship we’ve seen out of politicians and politics, our generation has an optimistic trust in ourselves and in each other,” said Jing-Jing Shen ‘23, Student Chair of the Harvard Public Opinion Project (HPOP). “These results speak to the resilient and confident character of young people. Despite personal worries, racial unrest, a polarizing climate and disillusionment with politicians, government, and big tech, we’re still hopeful, and we want to actively create a better future for our country.”
Top findings of this survey, the 41st in a biannual series, include the following:
1. Despite the state of our politics, hope for America is rising (especially among people of color), and so is youth’s faith in their fellow Americans
In the fall of 2017, only 31% of young Americans said they were hopeful about the future of America; 67% were fearful. Nearly four years later, we find that 56% have hope. While the hopefulness of young whites has increased 11 points, from 35% to 46% -- the changes in attitudes among young people of color are striking. Whereas only 18% of young Blacks had hope in 2017, today 72% are hopeful (+54). In 2017, 29% of Hispanics called themselves hopeful, today that number is 69% (+40).
By a margin of nearly three-to-one, we found that youth agreed with the sentiment, “Americans with different political views from me still want what’s best for the country” -- in total, 50% agreed, 18% disagreed, and 31% were recorded as neutral. In a hopeful sign, no significant difference was recorded between Democrats (53% agree, 18% disagree) and Republicans (52% agree, 20% disagree).
2. Young Americans are significantly more likely to be politically engaged than they were a decade ago; a sharp increase in progressive political values marked since 2016
Less than one year after Barack Obama’s election, 24% of young Americans considered themselves to be politically active (fall 2009 poll). Twelve years later, we find the share of politically active Americans increased by half — and now 36% are politically active. The most politically active among this cohort are young Blacks (41% politically active).
Over the last five years, on a host of issues ranging from health care, to climate, immigration, poverty, and affirmative action--young Americans are increasingly more likely to favor government intervention. For example, we found:
- A 19-point increase in agreement with the statement “Qualified minorities should be given special preferences in hiring and education” (now 33%).
- An 18-point increase in agreement with the statement “Government should do more to curb climate change, even at the expense of economic growth” (now 55%).
- A 16-point increase since 2016 in agreement with “The government should spend more to reduce poverty” (now 61%).
- A 16-point increase in “Basic health insurance is a right for all people, and if someone has no means of paying for it, the government should provide it” (now 64%).
- An 8-point increase in agreement with “Recent immigration into this country has done more good than harm (now 37%).
3. Fifty-nine percent (59%) of 18-to-29-year-old Americans approve of President Biden’s job performance overall; 65% approve of his handling of the coronavirus and 57% race relations
President Biden’s highest approval marks come from young people of color (Blacks 77%, Hispanics 70%), college students (61%), and college graduates (67%). Females (61%) are more likely than males (57%) to approve of his job performance, as are young registered voters (61%) compared to the one-in-five in our poll who report that they are unregistered (55%). Among college voters, Biden’s 63% approval is the highest recorded in the 21-year history of the IOP survey (Bush 61% in 2003, Obama 57% in 2016).
President Biden’s highest marks come from his handling of the coronavirus (65% approval), 58% approve of his handling of climate change and education, 57% race relations, 56% health care, 55% mental health, 53% the economy, and 52% national security.
In the spring 2020 release that was conducted in mid-March as the primary contest was winding down, only one-third (34%) of young Americans held a favorable view of President Biden; today, 54% hold a favorable view. Among young Democrats, Biden enjoys an 85% favorability mark (+31 compared to spring 2020), which compares favorably to youth-favorite Senator Bernie Sanders (75% favorable).
4. Forty percent of young Americans expect their lives to be better as a result of the Biden administration; many more feel a part of Biden’s America than Trump’s
By a margin of 2:1, young Americans expect their lives to become better (40%) under the Biden administration, rather than worse (19%); 25% tell us that they don’t expect much of a difference. We found significant differences based on race and ethnicity.
- Whites: 30% better, 28% worse (net better: +2)
- Blacks: 54% better, 4% worse (net better: +50)
- Hispanics: 51% better, 10% worse (net better: +41)
Forty-six percent (46%) of young Americans agreed that they “feel included in Biden’s America,” 24% disagreed (28% expressed a neutral position). With the exception of young people living in rural America, at least a plurality indicated they felt included. This stands in contrast to “Trump’s America.” Forty-eight percent (48%) reported that they did not feel included in Trump’s America, while 27% indicated that they felt included (24% neutral). The only major subgroup where a plurality or more felt included in Trump’s America were rural Americans.
- 39% of Whites feel included in Biden’s America, 32% do not (+7); 35% of Whites feel included in Trump’s America, 41% do not (-6).
- 61% of Blacks feel included in Biden’s America, 13% do not (+48); 16% of Blacks feel included in Trump’s America, 60% do not (-44).
- 51% of Hispanics feel included in Biden’s America, 12% do not (+39); 17% of Hispanics feel included in Trump’s America, 55% do not (-38).
5. More than half of young Americans are going through an extended period of feeling “down, depressed or hopeless” in recent weeks; 28% have had thoughts that they would be better off dead, or of hurting themself in some way
Fifty-one percent of young Americans say that at least several days in the last two weeks they have felt down, depressed, or hopeless--19% say they feel this way more than half of the time. In addition, 68% have little energy, 59% say they have trouble with sleep, 52% find little pleasure in doing things. 49% have a poor appetite or are over-eating, 48% cite trouble concentrating, 32% are moving so slowly, or are fidgety to the point that others notice -- and 28% have had thoughts of self-harm
Among those most likely to experience bouts of severe depression triggering thoughts that they would be better off dead or hurting themself are young people of color (35% Black, 31% Hispanic), whites without a college experience (31%), rural Americans (34%), and young Americans not registered to vote (38%).
In the last two weeks, 53% of college students have said that their mental health has been negatively impacted by school or work-related issues; overall 34% have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus, 29% self-image, 29% personal relationships, 28% social isolation, 25% economic concerns, 22% health concerns--and 21% politics (no partisan divide).
6. Nearly a third of young Americans say that politics has gotten in the way of a friendship; differences of opinion on race-related issues most likely to cause rifts
Thirty-one percent of young Americans, but 37% of young Biden voters and 32% of young Trump voters say that politics has gotten in the way of a friendship before. Gender is not a strong predictor of whether or not politics has invaded personal space, but race and ethnicity are. Young whites (33%) are more likely than young Blacks (22%) to say that politics has gotten in the way--and nearly half of white Biden voters (45%) say politics has negatively impacted a friendship; 30% of white Trump voters say the same.
When young Americans were asked whether a difference of opinion on several political issues might impact a friendship, 44% of all young Americans said that they could not be friends with someone who disagreed with them on race relations. Sixty percent of Biden voters agreed with this sentiment, as did a majority of women (52%) and Blacks (57%). Americans between 18 and 24 (47%) were more likely than those slightly older (41% of those 25-29) to feel that race relations would cause a problem with friendships. Differences of opinion on whether or not to support Trump was an issue for slightly more than a third (34%), followed by immigration (30%), police reform (27%), abortion (26%), climate change (26%), and guns (19%).
7. With partisanship rising, three-quarters of American youth--including 85% of Biden voters and 73% of Trump voters--agree we need more “open-mindedness” in politics
Over the last decade, the number of young Americans who see politics as partisan, and politicians as selfish, has risen sharply. Seventy-six percent of youth (83% Democrats, 70% Republicans) agreed with the statement, “We need more open-mindedness in politics,” only 4% disagreed.
- 68% (66% Democrats, 73% Republicans) agreed with the statement, “Elected officials seem to be motivated by selfish reasons.” This marks a 14-point increase since 2010.
- 56% (57% Democrats, 59% Republicans) agreed with the statement, “Politics has become too partisan” -- a 10-point increase since 2010.
8. More than three-in-four young Americans have little trust in Facebook or Twitter to do the right thing; about half of young Americans believe the U.S. government should further regulate big tech
Facebook ranked as the least trustworthy of 16 institutions tested in the survey. Thirty-nine percent of young Americans indicated that they never trust Facebook (an additional 39% report they trust them to do the right thing only some of the time). Similarly, 38% indicated that they never trust Wall Street, 35% never trust Twitter, and 32% never trust the media. A quarter reported never trusting Amazon.
Thirty-five percent of young Americans believe that social media has had a negative impact on both their mental health and American democracy. Less than a quarter say that social media’s impact has been positive, on either account.
Nearly three-in-five young (58%) Americans believe that political leaders should be held to stricter standards than ordinary citizens on social media. While Democrats (71%) are more likely to favor stricter standards, a majority of independent or unaffiliated young Americans also agree, as do 46% of Republicans. On a similar note, a majority (52%) believed that Twitter’s ban of Donald Trump was necessary.
9. Two-thirds of youth, but only 26% of young Republicans, believe that Joe Biden won the election fairly
Overall, 68% of young Americans believe that Joe Biden won the election fairly, while a quarter say that there were enough problems with the election to question whether Joe Biden won--and 7% believe that Donald Trump won the election. Unsurprisingly, there are deep partisan divides; Republicans are divided by level of education and geography.
Twenty percent of Republicans believe that Trump won the election against Joe Biden, but among those who do not attend college and do not have a degree, the number jumps to 26%. More than a third (35%) of young Republicans residing in rural America believe Trump won in November--only 11% of this group believes that Biden won fairly.
One-third of young Republicans say that Trump was fully (9%) or partially (24%) responsible for inciting the breach and storming of the Capitol on January 6th, 2021; 88% of Democrats and 64% of independents say the same.
10. A plurality believe history will judge Trump as a “the worst president ever;” less than a quarter of young Americans want Trump to play a key role in the future of Republican politics; young Republicans are divided
Thirty percent of young Americans believe that history will judge Donald Trump as “the worst president ever.” Overall, 26% give the 45th president positive marks (best, great, good), while 54% give Trump negative marks (bad, terrible, worst); 11% believe he will go down as an average president.
Twenty-two percent of young Americans surveyed agree with the statement, “I want Donald Trump to play a key role in the future of Republican politics,” 58% disagreed, and 19% neither agreed nor disagreed. Among young Republicans, 56% agreed while 22% disagreed, and 21% were neutral. Only 61% of those who voted for Trump in the 2020 general indicated their desire for him to remain active in the GOP.
If they “had to choose,” 42% of young Republicans consider themselves supporters of the Republican party, and not Donald Trump. A quarter (25%) indicated they are Trump supporters first, 24% said they support both.
See a detailed data visualization of the results
This poll of 2,513 18- to 29- year-olds was organized with undergraduate students from the Harvard Public Opinion Project (HPOP) and supervised by John Della Volpe. Data were collected 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=1,508). Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish between March 9 and March 22, 2021. The target population for this survey is US residents between the ages of 18 and 29. Data are weighted to reflect population estimates based on age-group, race, Hispanic ethnicity, educational attainment, household income, urbanicity, and geographic region of residence. The margin of error for the total sample is +/- 2.60%.