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47th Harvard Youth Poll Results: Five Findings Relevant to Voting

18-to-29-Year-old’s Politically Active, But Ill-informed

The Institute of Politics (IOP) at the Harvard Kennedy School released its 47th Edition of the Survey of Young Americans’ Attitudes toward Politics and Public Service, a Harvard Youth Poll.

The analysis is based on the data collected from 2,010 young American citizens between the ages of 18 and 29, who were interviewed from March 14 - 21, 2024. The study was supervised by John Della Volpe, Director of Polling from the Harvard Public Opinion Project, and assisted by undergraduate students.

The Harvard Youth Poll uncovered many interesting facts about two cohorts of young Americans. The first cohort is 18 - 24 years old, so-called Generation Z; and the second cohort is 25-29 years old, so-called millennials. These young citizens are relevant to the political discourse in the U.S. We will review five key findings.

1. Politically Active: 75% are Registered to Vote in 2024

First, young Americans are active participants in the democratic process. In the 2020 Presidential Election, 69% of young Americans voted. Due to the pandemic, only 32% of them voted in a polling station, while 8% voted early, and almost a third of young Americans (29%) voted by mail/absentee ballot. It is a very encouraging trend.

Less than a third (27%) of young Americans sat out the 2020 election. Compared with overall voter participation in the U.S. during the Presidential Election, young Americans’ participation rate is five percentage points higher! According to the US Elections Project, the national overall participation rate was 66%.

This year, three-quarters, 75%, of young Americans are registered to vote, and 66% plan to vote in the 2024 Presidential Election, an additional 13% state that they are 50-50 likely to vote. Only 21% of young Americans “probably” or “definitely won’t be voting.”  U.S. Vote Foundation applauds the intention of young Americans to exercise their right to vote.

2. Young Americans are Concerned: 58% Think the Country is On “The Wrong Track”

Unfortunately, while many young Americans are active as voters, far fewer are happy with the direction the United States of America is heading. In fact, 58% of the participants of the survey think that the country is on “the wrong track,” while only 9%  (less than 10%) of the participants believe that the country is “generally headed in the right direction.”

Furthermore, young Americans are not content with the state of U.S. democracy. Only 3% describe the U.S. as “a healthy democracy,” and 20% state that the country is a “a somewhat functioning democracy.” It is alarming to see that 62% of young Americans think that the U.S. democracy has issues. Indeed, the study specifies that 16% believe that the U.S. is “a failed democracy,” and 46% believe that the U.S. is “a democracy in trouble”.

All in all, the majority of young Americans think that democracy in the U.S. faces significant challenges.

3. 62% Think that the Government Doesn’t Represent the Country They Love

Apparently young Americans disapprove of the job performance of the U.S. President, as well as the Democrats and the Republicans in Congress. More than half of the young Americans (64% and 62% of young Americans, respectively) disapprove of the job performance of the present administration. The same trend is seen with the approval ratings of both the Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress: 60% of young Americans disapprove of the Democrats in Congress, and 70% of young Americans disapprove of the Republicans in Congress.

Furthermore, young Americans are distrustful of billionaires (90%), Wall Street (86%), the Media (86%), Congress (83%), the federal government (79%), the President (76%), the Supreme Court (72%), and the United States military (60%). Overall, 62% of young Americans feel that the government doesn’t represent the country they love, and 69% of young Americans are “concerned about the moral direction of the country.” Repairing this trust will not come easily. It will take concerted effort on the part of the current and future administrations.

4. 73% of Young Americans Use Social Media Platforms to Stay Informed about Current Events

While being distrustful about the trajectory of the U.S., young Americans seem to be more informed about the current events and political developments in the country and abroad. Unfortunately, most of them count on social media platforms information about news and current events.

According to the Poll, Instagram (25%), TikTok (23%), Facebook (19%), X (16%), and Snapchat (8%) are the top sources for staying informed. Furthermore, young Americans obtain their knowledge about domestic and international developments through YouTube (25%), local TV news (22%), CNN (14%), Fox News (12%), and MSNBC (7%). They do not read newspapers or periodicals on any regular basis.

5. Concerns are Multi-fold: Economic Issues Dominate

Lastly, the political concerns that young Americans express are multi-fold. Almost a third of them (27%) are concerned with economic issues, such as the general economic situation (11%) as well as inflation, increasing cost of living (8%), and illegal immigration (9%). Only 8% of young Americans are concerned about foreign policy and national security, while barely 6% are troubled with environmental issues. More than half, 58% of young Americans, think finding a permanent job after graduation will be difficult.

While asked about a set of 16 issues facing the United States, they identified the following issues as being most critical: inflation (64%), healthcare (59%), housing (56%), gun violence (54%), jobs (53%), protecting democracy (52%), corruption (52%), education (50%), women’s reproductive rights (50%), crime (47%), immigration (47%), taxes (43%), and climate change (43%). In other words, economic concerns still dominate.  

Overall, the 47th Edition of the Harvard Youth Poll puts forward a number of findings that U.S. Vote Foundation would like to underscore.

  • While exercising their right to vote, young Americans are concerned about the United States' economic situation and the direction the country is heading toward.
  • Our nation’s younger voters are deeply distrustful of the politico-social system.
  • They are regularly informed through use of social media, which, unfortunately, is not required to obey the same professional and factual standards as the established press.

U.S. Vote Foundation sees this ‘social media as news’ trend as dangerous in the long term and continues to be committed to providing credible information about elections and the voting rights of U.S. citizens no matter where they reside. Register to vote if you haven't done it yet.

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