Supporters listen to President Obama during a “Moving America Forward” rally in Chicago, Ill., on Oct. 30, 2010. The president was on the campaign trail ahead of the Nov. 2 midterm elections. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)
President Obama is starting to regain the trust of a key demographic that helped elect him in 2008, according to a new poll from Harvard University released on Thursday. Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP) conducted a national survey on the political views of “Millennials” – 18 to 29-year-old Americans – throughout the country. The poll included 3,018 interviews conducted between Feb. 11 and March 2.
Millennials had grown skeptical of President Obama in the years following his election, the IOP reported. In the 2008 presidential election, nearly 70 percent of voters 29 and younger voted for President Obama – the highest ever for any one candidate. But IOP surveys since 2009 showed his job-approval ratings among young people declining, even dipping below 50 percent during the rancorous midterm election season. Recently, however, Millennials seem to be warming up to the president again, with his approval rating increasing from 49 percent to 55 percent in the past four months.
Approval for the president jumped even higher on college campuses — to 60 percent. And his position for the next election, at least for now, is improving: while in October Millennials put him in a dead heat with a generic Republican candidate, they currently favor him 38 percent to 26 percent.
And yet Millennials’ anxiety about the direction of the country remained high. The majority said that the economy is their most pressing concern, and 45 percent rated their personal financial situation as “very or fairly bad” – essentially the same number as a year ago.
Many were also pessimistic about other issues, including America’s standing in the world, the value of holding public office and the performance of government institutions.
So why the approval gap between the policy problems and the president’s popularity? The IOP’s director of polling John Della Volpe said that young people may be focusing more on their connection with President Obama himself: “Clearly there is a likeability and potentially a trust relationship that the president seems to be re-establishing with Millennials.”
The survey also showed that 2012 candidates should focus on their social media strategies to entice younger voters, as most Millennials now engage in politics online. Strikingly, many more thought that social media tools have a greater political impact than traditional person-to-person advocacy (27 percent compared to 16 percent). And the number who chose Facebook for that engagement also increased: During the past year, Millennials’ use of Facebook has grown significantly, from 64 percent to 80 percent (and to an even higher 90 percent on college campuses), far more than other social media outlets such as Twitter.
Campaigns should not, therefore, take Millennials’ pessimism about policy to mean they will not participate in the political process, as they did to historic effect in 2008, according to Trey Grayson, director of politics at the IOP.
“Young people will again have the opportunity to greatly impact the race for the White House,” he said in a statement. “Political campaigns which incorporate an effective youth outreach strategy will have a strong advantage in the 2012 cycle.”