Harvard poll shows trouble for health care, frustration with politics among millennials

BY Aileen Graef  December 4, 2013 at 3:37 PM EST

Students have a discussion about the Affordable Care Act with a supporter of the law at an awareness event at Santa Monica City College in Santa Monica, Calif. Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Young people enrolling in health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act is critical to the law’s success, one reason the White House is encouraging uninsured millennials to sign up.

President Barack Obama spoke to young people Wednesday to urge them to join health insurance exchanges that will help keep costs down for everyone enrolled.

But a new poll from the Institute of Politics at Harvard suggests it is no easy sell.
The survey, conducted after the problem-ridden rollout on Oct. 1, showed most young adults ages 18 to 29 believe that the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” will bring them higher costs with a lower quality of care. It found over 50 percent disapproval of the law in general.

These could be devastating statistics for Mr. Obama’s health care reform package. But IOP Director of Polling John Della Volpe pointed out in a call to reporters that 41 percent of uninsured millennials say they are split 50-50 at the moment on whether to enroll. That undecided group is the target audience for White House and Democratic campaigns meant to encourage young people to get covered.

For the last 13 years, Harvard’s IOP has conducted the Survey of Young Americans’ Attitudes Toward Politics and Public Service. The 24th edition of the poll, conducted from Oct. 30 to Nov. 11, 2013, among 2,089 young adults between the ages of 18 and 29, showed five trends in regards to health care, fiscal issues and changes in party affiliation and political approval. The results show a general disappointment in the government and shifts in the youth contingent of the Democratic base.

Aside from health care, fiscal issues remain supreme as a political concern for millennials, with student loan debt at the top of the list. A majority of those surveyed from the Republican, Democratic and Independent parties support the “Buffet Rule” — having people who make over $1 million a year pay 30 percent of their income in taxes — over the five other options to choose from to reduce the deficit.

They also support cutting foreign economic aid in half and reducing spending on the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Concern over the amount of student loan debt — the highest it has ever been in history — transcends political affiliation, with 58 percent saying they have student loan debt and 57 percent saying it is a major problem with very little deviance between the political parties.

When asked about their opinions on elected officials and politics in general, the numbers did not bode well for Mr. Obama, Congress and the Democrats. The youth vote was critical in Mr. Obama’s election and reelection. After a hard year for the Obama administration, millennials are now trending like older adults, with 41 percent approval and 47 percent saying they would recall and replace the president if given the option.

Congress fared worse than the president, with 52 percent saying they would recall and replace all members of Congress. Approval ratings of both parties were low and approval ratings for the Republicans only get lower. But Democrats should not be too quick to celebrate. The poll also showed a trend that may raise some concern for that party.

The IOP’s Della Volpe and his team broke the millennial generation into a first and second wave: the first wave being millennials from 25-29 and the second of millennials ages 18-24. While the first wave has kept trending more towards the Democratic side, 18-24 year old voters are leaning more towards the conservative side, following in the path of their older siblings, parents and grandparents.

Della Volpe said that they attributed this to the fact that most of the second wave age bracket was not yet of voting age when Mr. Obama was first elected, but instead saw the political gridlock that framed his reelection. While millennials have invested a lot of hope in this administration and its progressive outlook, dysfunction in government has led to a general sense of disappointment. It is a trend that could spell trouble for the Democrats, with cracks showing in what was their once very strong youth base.

Judy Woodruff will speak with Della Volpe about his findings on the NewsHour Wednesday night.