Harvard Released a Study of Young Voters, and There's Bad News for Obama


Millennials are America's largest generation. And in this election cycle, they're up for grabs.

Harvard's Institute of Politics published a poll of America's 18- to 29-year-olds Wednesday that indicates this critical constituency hasn't hardened into a predictable voting bloc, and they could be a game-changer in some states on Election Day. The poll is a stark reminder that neither party can take this crucial bloc of voters for granted.

Here are some of the survey's most surprising results, showing that young voters are fed up with President Obama and the Democrats, and reluctantly turning toward the GOP:

1. Young voters think Republicans should control Congress.

While young Americans prefer a Congress controlled by Democrats instead of Republicans by 7 points — no surprises there — a slight majority of young people who report that they will "definitely vote" prefer the idea of a Republican-run Congress. This is a shift from the last midterm elections in 2010, when 55 percent of likely voters preferred the Democrats to run Congress and 43 percent preferred the GOP.

2. Conservatives are much more enthusiastic about voting.

On the whole, Millennials are as interested in voting as they were during the last election cycle — both times just slightly over a quarter of them said they will "definitely be voting." But the enthusiasm gap between young people who identify as Republicans and Democrats has grown since 2010. Before the last election, Republicans ranked 5 points higher than the Democrats when they said they would "definitely be voting"; this year, that enthusiasm gap has grown to a 12-point margin.

3. Obama's approval rating among young voters is close to its lowest ever.

Harvard Institute of Politics

Young people aren't fond of Obama's job performance. Since April it's fallen from 47 percent to 43 percent, which is the second-lowest rating in Harvard's IOP polls since he took office (the lowest rating was 41 percent in the fall of 2013).

4. Obama's not faring well with young Hispanics.

One of the most important parts of the electoral future of both parties hinges on whether they can claim the allegiance of Hispanic voters. Among young Hispanics, the president's job approval is at its lowest since the IOP began tracking Obama in 2009, with 49 percent approval, which is an 11 point drop since April and 32 points less than it was five years ago.

5. Race is strongly predictive of varying attitudes.

Black 18- to 29-year-olds are generally far more charitable in their approval of Washington's performance than their white counterparts, with the notable exception being their opinion of the Republican Party. 

The disparity between young white and young black approval of Obama's job performance  — 31 percent and 78 percent, respectively — is especially noteworthy. That difference of 47 points represents significant widening since 2009, when the gap between young whites and blacks was 36 points. 

6. Everybody hates Congress. Really.

53 percent of young Americans would be willing to recall and replace all members of Congress, and in fact this figure rises nearly 10 points among "likely" voters. A plurality of them think that their representatives care more about "themselves" than anyone else.

The takeaway: As this survey shows, young Americans are far from a uniform voting bloc. While most polling shows that Millennials are firmly progressive, Democrats can't take their support or enthusiasm for granted. It's clear that Washington's poor reputation and a dearth of optimism about economic life is likely to cause young voters to stray. 

If the Republican Party ever finds an orator who appears to transcend party lines and sparks the kind of hope that Obama did in 2008, they might just be able to capitalize on this in a big way in a presidential election. For now, though, they're just glad their fortunes appear to be improving.