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

October 21, 2010

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.