A new Harvard University poll released Tuesday shows millennials — now the largest generation of eligible voters -- are very uneasy. From fear of the future to distrust in political parties, the Public Opinion Project’s findings show an unsettled generation.
Each semester, under the guidance of Harvard’s Institute of Politics Polling Director John Della Volpe, Harvard undergraduate students brainstorm and write questions for a comprehensive poll, analyze the collected data, and present the results to the media and other interested parties. On a conference call with members of the media, Harvard undergraduate students explained their findings. Some highlights include:
Only 14 percent of young Americans believe America is generally headed in the right direction; at this moment, fear outpaces hope for our future, 67 to 31 percent.
By nearly a 4-to-1 margin (54 to 14 percent), young Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, compared to the right direction. When asked whether they are more hopeful or fearful about America’s future, 67 percent expressed fear, while 31 percent expressed hope. Over four in five Democrats (82 percent) voiced fear compared to 17 percent expressing hope. In contrast, 58 percent of Republicans expressed hope while 39 percent expressed fear.
Reasons for this widespread fear of the future may be attributed to many different political factors - both poor economic policies implemented under the Obama administration as well as heated rhetoric and political divide under the Trump administration.
Sixty-seven percent of millennials believe that America’s greatest threats come from forces inside, not outside, the country. In response to an open-ended question about top threats, President Trump, “ourselves,” and racism were the top responses.
Seventy-nine percent of young Americans are concerned about the state of race relations today; 68 percent of black Americans and 46 percent of Hispanics believe their race is under attack “a lot” in America. 15 percent of whites feel the same way.
Nearly four in five (79 percent) of young Americans register concern about the state of race relations in the country today, a five-point increase over the last year. The percent of young Americans across all racial backgrounds who felt that their race was under attack “a lot” also increased by five points (from 24 to 29 percent) since last fall.
The percent of young whites who felt under attack “a lot” remained stagnant at 15 percent, while the percent of young blacks who felt under attack “a lot” increased from 62 to 68 percent. The percent of young Hispanics increased by more than half, from 30 to 46 percent.
Despite Democratic advantages, only 34 percent agree that the party cares about people like them; 21 percent believe the same is true for the Republican Party and 19 percent for the president.
When young Americans were asked whether the major parties and the president cared about people like them, only about one in five believed that the Republican Party (21 percent) or President Trump (19 percent) did so. More than a third (34 percent) of young Americans agreed that the Democratic Party cared about people like them.
A majority of college students (51 percent) agreed that opportunities to hear “highly controversial speakers adds value to the educational experience.” While this statement was presented in the abstract, it shows that about half of American students are open to rigorous discourse and a wide array of viewpoints existing on campus.
On the other hand, students are not open to the spread of incorrect information or "fake news" - something different from differing political, philosophical, or religious concepts and viewpoints. By more than a 3-to-1 margin, young Americans believe that social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have an obligation to regulate fake news. This is a non-partisan issue, as Democrats (53 percent) and Republicans (52 percent) hold similar views.
One major partisan split is who feels comfortable speaking about their views on campus. College Democrats (60 percent) are significantly more comfortable than college-age Republicans (25 percent) when it comes to sharing political opinions on campus without fear of censorship or repercussions.
“American political institutions are at a tipping point,” Della Volpe said. “Millennials are now the largest generation in the electorate. This poll and the Virginia election show that they are becoming more motivated -- and I believe the fear that exists today about our future will soon be turned into the fuel that will reform our government. The only question is whether this comes from inside or outside the traditional party structure.”
This 34th edition of Harvard’s poll surveyed 2,037 young Americans across the country and was conducted between Oct. 31 and Nov. 10. The margin of error for the poll is +/- 3.05 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. A detailed report on the poll’s findings is available online.