Most American adults younger than 30 are concerned about the US and its democracy, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School. The poll was conducted in late October and early November.
Young adults say, 55% to 44%, that they’re more fearful than hopeful about the future of America — a shift from earlier this year, when most said they were hopeful. Only about one-third now describe the US as a healthy or even “somewhat functioning” democracy, with 52% saying it’s a “democracy in trouble” or that it’s failed altogether.
Young Republicans are especially pessimistic: 70% say American democracy is in trouble or failed, compared with 45% of young Democrats who say the same.
“After turning out in record numbers in 2020, young Americans are sounding the alarm,” IOP Polling Director John Della Volpe said in a statement. “When they look at the America they will soon inherit, they see a democracy and climate in peril — and Washington as more interested in confrontation than compromise.”
Neither the worries about democracy nor the partisan contours they take are unique to the youngest generations. In a September CNN poll, 56% of American adults of all ages said that the nation’s democracy was under attack, with that number rising to 75% among Republicans.
Young Americans give President Joe Biden a modestly negative job approval rating, the Harvard IOP poll finds, with 46% approving and 51% disapproving. That’s down since March of this year, when an earlier survey found that 59% approved and 38% disapproved. Currently, they give Biden better ratings for his handling of coronavirus (51% approve) and education (48%) than for his efforts addressing the economy (38%), crime (37%) or gun violence (34%).
A third of young adults say that they think the Biden administration is generally headed in the right direction to have a successful presidency, with 38% saying it’s off on the wrong track, and 28% that they’re not sure.
Asked to choose three of the top accomplishments that would define a successful presidency to them, 58% of young Americans say strengthening the economy ranks among their top issues, with 45% saying that a successful presidency would entail bringing the country together, and 42% that it would involve improving health care. Fewer picked addressing climate change (33%), reducing economic inequality (32%), improving public education (28%), ensuring social justice (25%) or improving America’s international standing (20%) as one of their top priorities.
One-third of young adults describe themselves as being “politically engaged or politically active” — a finding that marks an increase from 2009, when only 24% of adults under 30 described themselves that way. Fewer than four-in-10 in the latest poll say they will definitely vote in next year’s midterm elections.
The Harvard IOP poll surveyed 2,109 adults aged 18-29 on Oct. 26 through Nov. 8. Data was collected by Ipsos Public Affairs using KnowledgePanel, a nationally representative online panel. The margin of sampling error for the total sample is +/- 3.08%.
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