On the eve of the next presidential election, young Americans are showing far less enthusiasm for voting—and much greater skepticism about the political process—than they did four years ago, according to a new poll from Harvard University’s Institute of Politics.
Nearly two-thirds of the 18- to 29-year-olds in the poll, released on Wednesday, said they were registered to vote. Fifty-two percent said they thought President Obama would be re-elected, while 15 percent thought he would lose. They overwhelmingly favored the incumbent on such matters as the economy, immigration reform, health-care policy, and foreign policy.
But young voters also indicated a clear uneasiness with the electoral process, and with Congress. Disenchantment was strongest among voters between 18 and 24 years old. Four years ago, 43 percent of voters in that age group said they were politically active; now only 22 percent do.
The sharp decrease hints at a schism within the millennial generation that researchers plan to examine further, said John Della Volpe, director of polling for the institute, in a conference call with reporters
“I think we’re headed for a pretty significant step back in participation and turnout,” he said.
In all, the poll results are a stark contrast from four years ago. Shortly before the 2008 election, 66 percent of voters between 18 and 24 said they were “definitely likely” to vote in the presidential election. This month only 48 percent said so.
Today’s college students, especially those who are 18 or 19 years old, have a set of experiences different from those of the young voters who ushered Mr. Obama into office four years ago, Mr. Della Volpe said. In some cases, their views are shaping up to be more conservative than those of voters just a few years older.
“They’ve grown up with hyperpartisanship in Washington, a great recession where they see their friends and family members losing their jobs and their houses,” he said. “Their views of politics have been shaped more by that than by the foreign-policy decisions made in the first part of the decade.”
That more-subdued view of politics, he said, could still provide an 11th-hour opportunity for Mitt Romney, whose campaign hasn’t fully connected with the nation’s youngest voters.
“Drive directly to college campuses, speak directly to freshmen and sophomores about the economy,” Mr. Della Volpe said, as though giving pointers to the Republican nominee. “They’re just different from their older brothers and sisters. There’s still an opening there.”