Poll finds conservative millennials to be more enthusiastic as midterms approach

BY Chelsea Coatney  April 29, 2014 at 5:39 PM EST

A new poll by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics found that only 23 percent of young Americans say they will “definitely be voting” this November. The poll, which asked 18 to 29 year olds around the country about their outlook on American politics, is in sharp contrast to the 34 percent of millennials who gave the same answer a mere five months ago.

The poll also shows that 44 percent of millennials who turned out for Mitt Romney in 2012 said that they will definitely be voting, while only 35 percent of 2012 Barack Obama voters said they will. This is likely to concern Democrats across the country, who need young Americans to turn up at the polls this year if they want to ensure their hold on the Senate majority.

“It’s been clear for some time now that young people are becoming more disconnected and disillusioned with Washington every single day … and unfortunately that leads to what I think will be the lowest turnout during midterm elections that we’ve seen since 2000 when this project began,” John Della Volpe, Polling Director at the Harvard Institute of Politics said.

Traditionally, older voters are more likely to turn out in midterm elections than their younger counterparts. With many Democrats at risk of losing their seats in Congress this year to GOP challengers, the typically younger-leaning party was hoping to reverse that trend, but the IOP poll shows that this might be an uphill struggle for the Democrats. In addition to the enthusiasm of Romney’s former supporters, the poll found that conservatives are 10 percent more likely to vote than liberals, men are 9 percent more likely to vote than women, and whites are 9 percent more likely to vote than blacks and Hispanics.

IOP Chair Alex Worth cited income inequality as the number one issue IOP students were interested in this semester. Seventy two percent of those polled found income inequality to be a “problem” in America today, but a consensus was not reached on the cause of the issue, or how to solve it. Democrats are 15 percent more likely to believe that the income gap is the “result of factors outside one’s control,” while Republicans are 18 percent more likely to believe the gap is the “result of certain people working hard and making smart choices.”

The poll offered six options on how to fix the gap, but none garnered a majority. 46 percent believe that raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 is the solution most likely to be effective, followed by reducing workplace discrimination based on gender and race.

The good news for Democrats included President Obama’s on-the-rise approval rating among millennials—his general job approval rose by 6 percent (from 41 percent to 47 percent) since November 2013, when the IOP last polled youth voters. Approval of the administration’s healthcare initiative also rose five points to 39 percent.

But as a whole, young Americans are becoming more and more distrustful of all sides of their government. In the past year, trust in the Presidency has decreased from 39 percent to 32 percent, trust in the U.S. military has decreased from 54 percent to 47 percent, and trust in the Supreme Court from 40 percent to 36 percent. While 70 percent of millennials cite community service as an honorable thing to do, only 29 percent say that public service holds any appeal for them. This is sharply down from the 59 percent of 18-24 year olds that told the IOP in Fall 2008 that they were interested in “engaging in some form of public service to help the country.” Surveyors listed the tangible, immediate results that come from volunteering as more attractive to young Americans than the slow-to-change Washington politics that have plagued the past few years.

The Harvard Institute of Politics polled 3,058 voters between March 22 and April 4 with a margin of error of 1.8 percent.