College Students Agree With Other Young Adults: The Economy Hurts

March 09, 2010

More than half of young adults, including college students, are worried about their current economic situation, and many do not approve of President Obama's handling of the economy, according to the results of a recent survey.

A report on the findings, "Survey of Young Americans' Attitudes Toward Politics and Public Service: 17th Edition" says that students at four-year colleges diverged from young adults over all on a range of opinions. The students were more likely to say that it's honorable to be involved in politics, that the United States should consider the opinions of foreign nations, and that the country should intervene militarily to stop genocide.

The poll was conducted online by Knowledge Networks for Harvard University's Institute of Politics from January 29 to February 22. It examined the opinions and political ideologies of more than 3,000 adults ages 18 to 29, including college students.

Over all, 60 percent of those surveyed said they are concerned about meeting their current bills and obligations. About 45 percent of four-year college students said they are concerned about their ability to remain in college because of the strained economy, while almost two-thirds of community-college students said so.

When asked about Mr. Obama's handling of the economy, 46 percent of survey participants said they approved of his policies, up slightly from 44 percent in November. His overall approval rating, however, fell slightly, from 58 to 56 percent. (The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.) By comparison, 49 percent of all Americans approved of the president's performance in the latest Gallup Poll.

The pollsters for Harvard also asked questions on 20 different issues that they used to determine the political ideologies of today's young adults. Two of those ideologies were consistent with traditional political parties: the "new conservatives" (most like Republicans), representing about 13 percent of the young adults, and the "new progressives" (most like Democrats), making up about 17 percent.

The poll also identified the "new religious," representing about 20 percent of those surveyed. That group's political leanings are a combination of those from both the progressive and conservative camps. The new religious tend to be characterized by their beliefs in a strong military, environmental protection, social justice, and health care for those in need.

The largest ideological group was the "new passives," which made up 40 percent of all the young adults surveyed. New passives, which included the highest proportion of Hispanics who prefer to speak Spanish, rated almost all of the issue-based questions with the answer of "neutral." Forty-four percent of the new passives identified themselves as being politically independent. "This group is not likely to play an active role in the 2010 midterm elections," according to the report.

The pollsters used the same set of questions to examine differences of opinion between 18- to 29-year-olds over all and those attending four-year colleges. While the two groups agreed on certain issues, their opinions diverged significantly on others.

The full report will be available on the Institute of Politics' Web site.

Young Adults' Political and Social Views

  Percent who agree or strongly agree
Statement 18- to 29-year-olds* Students at 4-year colleges*
Community service is an honorable thing to do. 70 81
The U.S. should intervene militarily in other nations in order to stop genocide. 41 52
I feel like I need more practical information about politics before I get involved. 46 56
The U.S. should consider the opinions of other countries when making foreign-policy decisions. 45 53
The government should do more to curb climate change, even at the expense of economic growth. 29 37
Basic necessities, such as food and shelter, are a right that government should provide to those unable to afford them. 45 50
The U.S. should intervene militarily in other nations in order to protect itself from hostile countries. 31 31
* The comparison is between all 18- to 29-year-olds and a subset who are enrolled at four-year colleges.
Source: " Survey of Young Americans' Attitudes Toward Politics and Public Service: 17th Edition," Institute of Politics at Harvard University