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New Poll Shows Pessimism Among Millennials About Future Of United States

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John Della Volpe.
Matt Baskin/WGBH News
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171205_2-way_della-volpe_final_for_web.mp3

Barbara Howard: Two-thirds of young Americans are more fearful than hopeful about America's future, and less than a year before the 2018 midterm elections, likely young American voters cite preferences for Democratic control of Congress nearly 2-to-1. And those are just two of the findings of a new poll that came out today from the Institute of Politics at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government on the political stances of those aged 18 to 29. With us to talk about the poll is John Della Volpe. He is the director of polling for the Institute of Politics. Thanks for coming in, John.

John Della Volpe: Thanks so much for having me, Barbara.

Howard: So you polled about 2000 18-to-29 year-olds from 50 states over a 10 day period starting Oct. 31st — and you found that only 14 percent of young Americans believe that the country's generally heading in the right direction — and you asked a lot of questions. What stood out for you?

Della Volpe: What stood out to me, Barbara, is a sense that by a margin of 2-to-1, 67 percent of young Americans express more fear than hope about America's future. I remember just a couple of years ago when I would conduct focus groups and town meetings, I would ask young Americans what is the one thing that connects all of us, and I would hear opportunity. Today, I ask the same question, I hear fear and anxiety.

Howard: You asked them a lot about the political climate. What were the main things that came out of your study?

Della Volpe: Well, clearly, Donald Trump is driving most of the political climate today, and since the last poll was released in the spring of 2017, we see that the president's approval rating is down seven points to 25 percent among all young Americans, but it's down by 12 percentage points among young Republicans, down to 66 percent approve.

Howard: And they want Democratic control of Congress, though these young Americans. Is that right?

Della Volpe: They do. Again, on a 2-to-1 margin, when we look at the young Americans who indicate they will definitely vote, 65 percent prefer a Congress controlled by Democrats, 33 percent prefer one controlled by Republicans. Among independents, who are the swing group with this generation, we find again, two-to-one preference of Democrats over Republicans.

Howard: This should all be good news for the Democratic Party.

Della Volpe: It should be on paper — you're right, it should be. In fact, we have tracked increased motivation over the last four years among Democrats and over the last year. But unfortunately for the Democratic Party, only 34 percent of young Americans believe the Democratic Party cares about people like them.

Howard: Now they're looking to the 2018 midterm elections, and what was your finding in terms of confidence in the voting system, in terms of Russian interference?

Della Volpe: It's about 50/50 — about 50 percent of young Americans are not convinced that we won't have more meddling in the election in 2018 by the Russians.

Howard: But 50 percent are confident in the system?

Della Volpe: There are some ‘don't knows’ in there, too.

Howard: OK. Well let's talk about race. Seventy nine percent of young Americans you polled are concerned about the state of race relations today — 68 percent of black Americans, 46 percent of Hispanics believe that their race is under attack, in the words that you use in the poll, ‘a lot’ in America, while 15 percent of white people feel the same way.

Della Volpe: I think this is one of the most significant findings in this survey, and I want to stress the word ‘a lot’ — we typically, as when we write polls, have a four or five-point scale. And what's newsworthy about this — is 68 percent, almost seven out of 10 African-Americans, say they are under attack ‘a lot.’ The number of Hispanics has increased by 50 percent from 30 percent to 46 percent just in the last year.

Howard: What about affirmative action — do young people support it or not?

Della Volpe: They do support it. We’ve seen more support generally overall for affirmative action over the last several years as well.

Howard: OK. Now on campus — and comfort on campus — the majority of college students, 51 percent, agree that opportunities to hear highly controversial speakers adds value to their educational experience. But college Democrats are significantly more comfortable than Republicans in sharing their personal values.

Della Volpe: That's right. We don't see a lot of daylight between Democrats or Republicans on the idea of bringing controversial speakers to campus — they're [in] general agreement about that, about half believe that's a great idea. But we do see a significant difference in the number of Democrats who feel comfortable speaking. We have 60 percent of young Democrats who are comfortable speaking on campus and in classrooms, etc., but only 25 [percent] of young Republicans feel the same way. We asked that question a couple of years ago during the primary process — we found that Trump voters were actually the least likely to feel comfortable sharing their viewpoints on college campuses.

Howard: And this, again, is among 18 to 29 year-olds nationwide. And by more than a 3-to-1 margin, young Americans believe that social media platforms — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube — they have an obligation to regulate fake news, that came out of your study, as well. You also found that when it comes to single-payer health care, not surprisingly, 56 percent of young Americans support the single-payer option while 21 percent oppose. What else did you find? I understand you polled them about athletes taking a knee.

Della Volpe: We did, and overall, 53 percent of this young millennial generation approve of some professional athletes taking a knee. But it's a highly divisive issue, it's essentially an 80/20 issue — 80 percent of young Democrats approve of athletes taking a knee while only 17 percent of Republicans approve — close to 80 percent of Republicans disapprove of that.

Howard: And have you seen a shift in the belief in global warming?

Della Volpe: We have, over the last two-and-a-half years or so. We currently have about two-thirds of young Americans believing that global warming is man-made and mostly caused by emissions, which is a 9-point increase since the spring of 2015, when 55 percent agreed with that statement.

Howard: What stood out for you in this polling?

Della Volpe: Generally speaking, a lot of people think about America as a 50/50 nation. I look at this generation as a two-thirds, one-third generation. What I mean by that is two-thirds are concerned about more fear than hope, but also, two-thirds agree with what Bill Clinton said 25, 30 years ago about the need to develop a new community spirit in America, something that can connect us all together and make the American dream come alive. And two-thirds also agree with Barack Obama, who said we are a nation of immigrants. We are and will be a nation of immigrants. It doesn't matter if you're Democrat or Republican. Two-thirds of this generation agrees with those two principles about America and American values. And to me, that's what connects this generation, and I'm hopeful that Democrats and Republicans will spend some time, listen to this generation, and say do vote in 2018, because if they don't pay attention, I think the fear and anxiety we talked about earlier could be the fuel that lights, potentially, even a third-party move in 2020.

Howard: OK, thanks so much for coming in, John.

Della Volpe: Thank you for having me.

Howard: That's John Della Volpe. He is the director of polling for the Institute of Politics at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. The Institute of Politics came out with that new poll today on the political stances of young people.

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