Monday, April 24, 2023
Cambridge, MA – A national poll released today by the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School indicates that among18-to-29-year-olds, President Biden’s approval rating stands at 36%, a drop of three percentage points since last fall (39%) and five percentage points since last spring (41%.) The poll also finds that nearly half of young Americans (48%) have felt unsafe in the past month, with 40% worried about falling victim to gun violence. Trust in the Supreme Court to “do the right thing” has fallen by ten percentage points over the last decade, while less than half of young Americans feel like their local police department makes them safer. Nearly half (47%) of Americans under the age of 30 report “feeling down, depressed, or hopeless,” and 24% have considered self-harm at least several days in the last two weeks.
For over twenty years, the Harvard Public Opinion Project has provided the most comprehensive look at the political opinions and voting trends held by young Americans. The Spring 2023 Harvard Youth Poll surveyed 2,069 young Americans between 18- and 29-years old and was conducted between March 13 and 22, 2023.
“The data collected in this poll clearly demonstrates not only the growing levels of political engagement among young people, but the urgency of addressing serious issues such as mental health, gun violence, housing, and more,” said IOP Director Setti Warren. “The results of previous Harvard Youth polls have had a direct influence on public policy, and I expect to see that trend continue.”
“From the midterms through the recent Wisconsin Supreme Court election, we are seeing young Americans increasingly motivated to engage in politics out of sheer self-defense and a responsibility to fight for those even more vulnerable than themselves,” said John Della Volpe, Director of Polling at the Institute of Politics, and author of Fight: How Gen Z is Channeling Their Fear and Passion to Save America. “Every major political battle in America has Gen Z in the middle of it. This generation has a fire and urgency unlike any I’ve seen in 20 years, and they expect their elected officials and candidates to show the same.”
“From fears of mass shootings to concerns of one day becoming homeless, the current state of Gen Z could perhaps best be summarized in one word: anxious,” said Ethan Jasny ‘25, student chair of the Harvard Public Opinion Project. “Young Americans have translated this fear into action, turning out to vote like their rights — and lives — depend on it. But we cannot take this engagement for granted. Public figures across the political divide must recognize the profound personal challenges members of my generation face every day.”
The top ten findings from the 45th in the biannual series, which include data on President Biden, policing, trust in institutions, housing, belief formation, political engagement, and political typology can be found below.
1. President Biden’s job performance stands at 36% among young Americans between 18- and 29-years-old, slipping five points since Spring 2022 (41%).
- Only about one-in-four young adults approve of the President’s handling of the economy (28%) and inflation (22%). Thirty-eight percent (38%) approve of his handling of race relations, 37% of the war in Ukraine, and 27% of gun violence.
- Among young registered voters, approval is 38%. While close to two-thirds (64%) of registered voters who are Democrats approve of his job performance, approval drops to only six percent of Republicans and 30% of independent and unaffiliated registered voters.
- Nearly four-in-ten young Americans (39%) approve of the performance of Democrats in Congress, while only three-in-ten (29%) approve of Republicans in Congress.
2. Overall, nearly half (48%) of young Americans indicate that they have felt unsafe in the past month, including 16% in a shopping mall, 15% on public transportation, 13% in their neighborhood -- and 21% somewhere else in their city or town. Twenty-one percent (21%) of college students felt unsafe at their school.
- Forty percent (40%) of young Americans are concerned about being a victim of gun violence or a mass shooting. One-in-three (33%) are concerned about someone close to them being a victim of gun violence or a mass shooting (31%).
- Roughly half of female college students are concerned that they, or someone close to them, could be a victim of a mass shooting (53%) or sexual assault (49%).
3. Fewer than half (43%) of young Americans report that police officers in their community make them feel “more safe” -- 23% say local police make them feel less safe, while the remaining 32% are unsure. More Black Americans say their local police make them feel less safe (35%), than more safe (23%); 40% are not sure.
- More than three-in-five young Americans support stricter gun laws (63%), in general. When asked about requiring psychological exams for all gun purchases -- support increased to 73%, including a majority of Democrats (88%), Republicans (59%), and independents (71%). Fifty-eight percent (58%, including 40% strongly) of young people support a ban on assault weapons, 29% oppose (including 19% strongly).
- Half of young Americans (50%) support implementing law enforcement policies similar to England, where firearms are not provided to regular police officers, just those with special training. However, when respondents are only asked if they support reducing the number of police in their community who carry guns, without the reference to England, support drops to 28% and opposition rises to 56%.
- Most young Americans oppose (35% support, 47% oppose) reducing and re-allocating funds for the police departments in their community “to other government programs or social services aimed at alleviating crime.” When the question wording was changed to “defunding police departments in your community,” opposition rose to a solid majority (27% support, 57% oppose). While 54% of Democrats support re-allocating police funds, only 38% support “defunding.”
4. Compared to Spring 2018, trust in the United States Supreme Court to “do the right thing” all or most of the time has decreased by 10 percentage points (43% to 33%). Five years ago in 2018, the partisan divide between Democrats (43%) and Republicans (51%) was eight points; today, the divide stands at 20 points (28% Democrat, 48% Republican). In 2018, 40% of young females trusted the Supreme Court, today that number stands at only 28%.
- About as many young people trust their local police “all” or “most of the time” (48%), as “some of the time” or “never” (49%). On this question, we find a significant gender gap (54% of young men trust the police, compared to 44% of women) and profound differences by race and ethnicity. White Americans trust their local police by a net 11 points (55% trust, 43% do not); while Hispanics distrust their police by a net ten points (44% trust, 54% do not); and Black Americans’ distrust is a net 34 points (32% trust, 66% do not).
- The U.S. military remains one of the more trusted institutions, however, only 46% of 18-to-29- year-olds say they trust it all or most of the time (51% in 2018). Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Republicans trust the military at least most of the time; 41% of Democrats and the same number of independents feel the same way.
5. Nearly three-fourths (73%) of young Americans believe homelessness can happen to anyone. Nearly one-third of all 18-to-29- year-olds (32%), including 43% of Hispanic and 39% of Black Americans, are concerned that they could personally become homeless one day.
- Overall, 61% of young adults under 30 declare that owning a single-family house represents their “ideal housing situation,” 10% responded with renting an apartment, 8% renting a house, 8% owning a condominium, townhouse or duplex. While 71% of white Americans indicated owning a house is their ideal situation, this goal is shared by far fewer Hispanic (50%) and Black Americans (45%).
- A majority (53%) of all young people under 30 report that they would be comfortable with a major housing development being built in their neighborhood, with far more support among Hispanic (61%) and Black (63%) Americans, than whites (45%). Residents of urban (62% comfortable), suburban (55%) and small towns (51%) would be far more comfortable than rural residents (35%).
6. Most young Americans support policies that make voting easier and more accessible, including 57% who support automatic voter registration, 54% who support sending ballots to every voter by mail -- and 72% who oppose removing polling places from college campuses.
- A plurality (46%) of those surveyed support “electing a student representative with full voting rights to their school board.” Among young Democrats, support is 57% compared to 14% who oppose; with Republicans, support falls to 39% with 30% opposed. Independents are more divided, 41% support and 21% oppose.
- When asked whether they think the voting age should be lowered to 16, raised to 21, or kept where it is now -- we found the vast majority of young people (63% overall, 71% Democrat, 63% Republican, 59% independent) prefer the status quo. Young Democrats (12%) were more likely than Republicans (3%) to support lowering the age, while young Republicans (29%) were more likely than Democrats (11%) to support increasing the age.
7. While concerns about the efficacy of government pervade, 29% of 18-to-29-year-olds agree that “working in some form of public service is appealing” to them. In addition, we also found that between 10 and 20 percent of young Americans show strong interest in directly engaging with federal and local government officials on policy (based on recent U.S. Census estimates of 53.5 million Americans between 18-and-29-years-old, this projects to an estimated 5 to 10 million young people).
- The programs receiving greatest interest were completing online issue surveys sponsored by their member of Congress (19% responded 8-10 on a 0-10 scale) and attending a youth conference with advocates on issues they care about (16% 8-10).
- In addition, 13% reported strong interest in a youth council where they can deliver policy recommendations to their member of Congress; online town halls with their member of Congress or U.S. Senator (11%); online policy briefings with White House staff (11%); and online town halls with local and state elected officials (11%).
8. The mental health of young Americans remains a significant concern. Nearly half (47%) of young adults under 30 report “feeling down, depressed, or hopeless,” and 24% have had thoughts that they would be “better off dead,” or of hurting themselves in some way at least several days in the last two week.
- For the first time in this survey, we also asked about loneliness. We found 44% have been bothered by loneliness at least several days in the last few weeks. Additionally, 46% reported “little interest or pleasure in doing things,” and 55% “feeling nervous, anxious or on edge.”
9. As evidence of generational replacement (a theory proposed by political scientists Paul R. Abramson and Ronald Inglehart), fewer than half (42%) of young Americans who grew up in conservative households call themselves Republicans today (36% independent, 21% Democrat); among those who grew up in liberal households, 60% are Democrats (31% independent, 9% Republican).
- A plurality (44%) of young Americans identify as political moderates (30% identify as liberal, 24% conservative). Among those who grew up in what they consider a moderate household, 70% identify that way today; when it comes to political identification, 31% identify as a Democrat, 16% Republican with the remaining 53% independent or unaffiliated with a party.
- We also found that a supermajority of liberal youth (86%) and a majority of their moderate (52%) and conservative (61%) peers report that most of their friends share their political ideology. Meanwhile, just 5% of liberals and 14% of conservatives socialize mostly with those of the opposite political ideology.
10. Over the last decade, we have tracked a significant shift toward young Americans favoring more progressive government interventions. Among 14 typology questions we have included in the survey for at least a decade, we found double digit movement among eight topic areas. In four areas, we found a shift of at least 20 points.
- Basic health insurance is a right for all people, and if someone has no means of paying for it, the government should provide it. (2013 agree: 42%, 2023: 65%).
- Basic necessities, such as food and shelter, are a right that government should provide to those unable to afford them. (2013 net agree: 44%, 2023: 62%).
- The government should spend more to reduce poverty. (2013 net agree: 35%, 2023: 59%).
- Government should do more to curb climate change, even at the expense of economic growth. (2013 net agree: 29%, 2023: 50%).
For the first time, we asked whether young Americans agree or disagree with the statement “Immigrants improve the culture of the United States,” and found that 55% agree, 14% disagree with the remaining 28% saying they neither agree nor disagree. Notably, we found more agreement than disagreement among young people across the political divides (Democrats 72% agree, 7% disagree; Republicans 33% agree, 29% disagree; independents 55% agree, 11% disagree).
This poll of 2,069 18-to-29-year-olds was organized with undergraduate students from the Harvard Public Opinion Project (HPOP) and supervised by John Della Volpe, IOP Director of Polling. 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=1,033), while the sample to be calibrated was provided by non-probability, opt-in web panel sample sources (n=1,036). Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish between March 13 and 22, 2023. 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 +/- 2.86%.