• August 28, 2015

More College-Age Voters May Sit Out Elections, as Their Approval of Obama Drops

Interest in the November 2 midterm elections has waned among college students and other members of the so-called Millennial generation who are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the work elected officials are doing and the direction of the country, according to a new survey by Harvard University's Institute of Politics.

The poll, conducted from September 24 to October 4, also found that approval of President Obama among Millennials dropped below 50 percent for the first time. Young voters overwhelming favored the Democrat in the 2008 presidential contest.

Among eligible voters under the age of 30 who were surveyed for the Harvard poll, only 27 percent said they will "definitely be voting" in this fall's elections, a drop of nine percentage points from a similar poll conducted in November 2009. Sixteen percent of respondents said they would "probably be voting," and 21 percent said the chances were "50-50."

The authors of the poll, being released today, say the last 11 months have seen a significant downturn in young Americans' enthusiasm for and interest in politics, a complete reversal of the trend leading up to the 2008 elections.

"A generation marked earlier this decade by their community spirit and optimism seems on the brink of a despair similar to their parents', grandparents', and millions of dissatisfied older voters'," the report states.

Only 18 percent of respondents said the nation as a whole was on the right track, a five-percentage-point drop from a year ago. Thirty-nine percent said the country was on the wrong track, with 41 percent saying they were unsure.

Inclined Toward Democrats

While they're not sure the country is moving the right way, Millennials still favor Democrats in the coming elections by an 11-point margin, 53 percent to 42 percent. This is a divergence from the population as a whole, which recent polls say favor Republicans.

That result does not mean that respondents are particularly pleased with the work Congressional Democrats are doing—only 39 percent said they approved of Democrats in Congress—but just that they prefer Democrats to Republicans, who received a 28-percent approval rating.

Looking forward to the 2012 presidential campaign, the survey found President Obama polling at a statistical dead heat against an unnamed Republican challenger, 31 percent for Mr. Obama compared with 30 percent for the Republican, and 39 percent undecided. Despite that finding, respondents still favored Mr. Obama over a number of specific potential Republican challengers, including Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Mitt Romney.

Survey respondents said they were ideologically diverse, with 37 percent identifying as liberal, 27 percent as moderate, and 34 percent as conservative.

A majority said they were not sure how they felt about the Tea Party movement, with 11 percent saying they supported the movement and 34 percent saying they did not.

This is the 18th time since 2000 that the Institute of Politics has conducted such a poll to gauge the opinions of individuals between the ages of 18 and 29 on a variety of political issues. This time around, it surveyed 2,004 individuals and had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.


1. dottylynchdowney - October 21, 2010 at 05:31 pm

This survey is in line with an analysis done by my graduate students at American University of data provided specially by CBS News. It was released on October 6 at an American Forum on Young People and the 2010 Elections http://www.american.edu/soc/americanforum/

Young people are still President Obama's strongest supporters although his approval rating is down with them as well but they are also the biggest proponents of a third party, although as the IOP survey found, not the Tea Party.

Do not see any questions in the survey about whether young people were contacted by voter registration organizations, Organizing for America or other grassroots groups. My undergraduate students mentioned that being away from home means they do see or read much about local races and thus are not as engaged as they would be in a national election. Others were just disillusioned or didn't see the outcome of the midterms as affecting anything that matters to them.

Did those grassroots groups just run out of gas this year?

2. physicsprof - October 22, 2010 at 10:36 am

May be grassroot groups were as much disillusioned as much as college students?
They followed a big mouth community organizer running slick slogan-ladden campaign and they got fooled. Speaking of preparing civil-savvy citizenry, something our humanities faculty are so proud of doing, aren't Jeff Peters and Andy Tucker, The Duke and The King in the programs of our esteemed English departments?

3. the_pragmatist - October 22, 2010 at 12:11 pm

It's time that young voters stop blindly swearing allegiance to one party or the other... and vote based on the quality of individual candidates -- their experience, track record, character, and concrete ideas going forward!

4. sand6432 - October 22, 2010 at 12:17 pm

I suspect that many young people were turned off by the Obama Administration's cozy relationship with the financial sector, nicely reviewed by Charles Ferguson in his film "Insider Job" and covered in an earlier edition of The Chronicle. The President squandered a lot of political capital in that episode as well as undermined trust in his Administration to do things differently than his predecessors. That the President then spent so much time and energy pushing his health-care reform program instead of paying more attention to the faltering economy and jobs was another huge tactical error. All of this is coming back to bite the Democrats now. Many young people are probably not thinking that the Republicans can do any better, but they've given up hope that real change can occur under Obama--hence their decision to sit out this election.---Sandy Thatcher

5. jaysanderson - October 22, 2010 at 02:05 pm

The danger of organizing college students is that they are intelligent--relatively inexperienced, but able to learn and adapt, and discern fact from fiction.

6. getwell - October 22, 2010 at 02:38 pm

Possibly because they have incurred record student loan debt, yet are unable to find a job after graduation.

Hmmm...maybe the younger generation are finally figuring out that tax & spend govt vs. free marketplace = NO JOBS:)

7. 11161452 - October 22, 2010 at 09:11 pm

I participated in the second day of early voting on our local university campus, and there was no line to vote--more workers than voters.

So the youth vote has decided to "sit out the election". What does this accomplish? It allows others to seal your fate by making the decision for you. I just don't get it.

8. fergbutt - October 24, 2010 at 07:38 pm

Or if students feel they made a mistake, they could step up and undo their damage, by finding ways in a midterm election to send a message to Obama, that they disagree with more of what he's done than what he has done, that they wish he'd stop blaming Bush, or stop blaming the voters (his latest scapegoat) for being too angry/stupid to see how "nuanced" he is. Or that he'd apologize for lying about shovel-ready jobs. Voting would show courage, which is what we teach students to show (unless it conflicts with our biases, and then some of us pray they stay home). I'm tired of professors championing the "get out the vote" effort when it serves their purposes and then wishing disenchanted students would stay home when student votes might "make a difference" when it's the wrong difference.

9. chicago_48 - October 27, 2010 at 01:47 pm

The youth vote (until the Obama election) was never there. I mean, historically, young people DON'T vote, so what do you expect now? On the Dems side, it's the seniors and the union workers and working class.
If there is disillusionment, it's because college students are unrealistic to begin with. I mean, who would get into debt to the tune of $100K for an education -- unless you plan to be a doctor or an engineer or some other high wage earner?

I got my degree(s) strictly through employer tuition reimbursement. It took me years to do it, but I did. If young people were smarter, they would look for every tuition-reimbursement opportunity they could; whether Fedex, UPS, whatever.

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