Resolute Square

47th(!) Harvard Youth Poll Drop (Part 1)

John Della Volpe breaks down the 47th Harvard Youth Poll: "The students were curious about the state of the 2024 campaign, but we also dug deep into important issues like Israel/Gaza, immigration, institutional trust, culture wars, mental health, along with typology and attitudes about voting and politics."
Published:April 18, 2024

This piece is published with the generous permission of John Della Volpe. To read more of his outstanding writing and analysis, visit JDVonGenZ+.

By John Della Volpe

This morning, with the undergraduate members of the Harvard Public Opinion Project — my colleagues and I at the IOP are releasing the 47th edition of the longest running survey of youth attitudes related to politics and public service. It’s a probability based sample of 2,010 young Americans between 18 and 29; the interviews were conducted between March 14 and 21, 2024.

Like the 46 others, this one does not disappoint — the students were curious about the state of the 2024 campaign, but we also dug deep into important issues like Israel/Gaza, immigration, institutional trust, culture wars, mental health, along with typology and attitudes about voting and politics.
This is the first of several posts on some of the more notable takeaways and trends.

My Three Takeaways (So far)

#1: Among young Americans under 30, President Biden leads former President Trump by eight percentage points; among likely voters, Biden’s lead expands to 19 points. 

Approximately half (53%) of young Americans indicate they will “definitely be voting” in the 2024 general election for president. Young Americans’ interest in voting in 2024 is now on par with Harvard Youth Poll data from 2020, which indicated that 54% would likely vote.

If the presidential election were held today, President Biden would outperform former President Trump among both registered (50% Biden, 37% Trump) and likely young voters under 30 (56% Biden, 37% Trump). When there is no voter screen (i.e., all young adults 18-29), the race narrows to single digits, 45% for President Biden, 37% for former President Trump, with 16 percent undecided.

Among the 1,051 “likely voters” in our sample, we found significant differences in support levels based on gender, age, race/ethnicity, and education levels, among other subgroups. For example, among likely young voters:

  • President Biden’s lead among young men is six points; among young women his lead is 33 points;
  • President Biden’s lead among 18-24 year-olds is 14 points, and among 25-29 year-olds it is 26 points; 
  • President Biden’s lead among white voters is 3 points; among non-white voters his lead is 43 points;
  • President Biden’s lead among college students is 23 points; he leads by 47 points among college graduates. The race is even among those not in college and without a four-year degree.

For context, at this stage in the 2020 election, the Harvard Youth Poll showed Biden leading Trump by 23 points among all young adults (51%-28%) and by 30 points (60%-30%) among likely voters under 30.

  • One area where former President Trump has an advantage over Biden is enthusiasm. Three-quarters (76%) of Trump voters say they enthusiastically support their candidate, while 44% of Biden voters say the same.A guilty verdict in any of former President Trump’s trials could significantly impact the youth vote. If Trump is found guilty, we find that:Biden’s lead among all young Americans increases from 8 to 18 points;
  • Biden’s lead among young registered voters increases from 13 to 21 points;
  • Biden’s lead among young likely voters increases from 19 to 28 points.

In a hypothetical scenario, when Biden and Trump were joined on the ballot by independent and third party candidates Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Cornel West, and Jill Stein, Biden would still win the youth vote but with smaller margins.

#2: Support for a permanent ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war is 5-to-1 in favor; majorities of young Americans sympathize with the Israeli and the Palestinian people. 

While only 38% of young Americans tell us that they are following the news about the war between Israel and Hamas very or somewhat closely, the proportion rises among registered voters (45%) and those most likely to vote in November (52%). Overall, we find that Democrats (49%) are more likely to follow this news closely compared to Republicans (32%), and those with a college degree (50%) are more likely to be following these events compared to current college students (39%) and those that never attended (32%).

When young Americans are asked whether or not they believe Israel’s response so far to the October 7 attack by Hamas has been justified -- a plurality indicates that they don’t know (45%). About a fifth (21%) report that Israel’s response was justified with 32% believing it was not justified. Across most subgroups, more young Americans say the actions of the Israeli government were unjustified than justified. Republicans see Israel's actions as justified (36% justified, 16% not justified), while Democrats (14% justified, 44% not justified) and independents (19% justified, 30% not justified) feel the opposite is true. 

Young Americans support a permanent ceasefire in Gaza by a five-to-one margin (51% support, 10% oppose). No major subgroup of young voters opposes such action.

Asked whether or not they sympathize with various groups involved in the war, we found that majorities of young Americans hold sympathy for the Israeli (52% sympathize) and the Palestinian people (56% sympathize), while they have far less sympathy for their governments (29% sympathize with the Israeli government; 32% with the Palestinian government). Seventeen percent (17%) expressed sympathy toward Hamas; for those who were presented with the information in a split sample that Hamas was an Islamist militant group, sympathy dipped to 13%.

#3: Most young Americans believe there’s a crisis at the Southern border; at the same time, youth believe immigrants improve America’s culture. 

A majority (53%) of young Americans–including at least a plurality of every significant subgroup–believe that the United States is experiencing an immigration crisis at the Southern border; only 16% disagree with this notion, while 29% neither agree nor disagree. Despite this, young Americans oppose construction of a border wall (36% support, 45% oppose) and believe by wide margins that:

  • Immigrants improve the culture of the United States (50% agree, 17% disagree);

And they disagree by similarly strong margins that:

  • Immigrants increase crime in my community. (21% agree, 45% disagree); and
  • Immigrants are taking jobs that should go to Americans instead. (24% agree, 48% disagree).

Only 12% of young Americans say they would be uncomfortable if an immigrant moved next door to them. A solid majority (60%) of young Americans have had classmates who have been immigrants, 46% have friends who are immigrants, 41% have had immigrant coworkers, and 40% have had immigrant neighbors. Young Americans who have firsthand experience with immigrants have more favorable views about their impact on society.

After being informed by the U.S. Census Bureau’s projection that white Americans will comprise less than half of the U.S. population by approximately 2045, respondents were asked to share their perspectives. A significant majority (60%) expressed a neutral stance, considering the news neither inherently positive nor negative for the country. Among the remaining young Americans, opinions were evenly divided, with 19% viewing it favorably and 18% perceiving it unfavorably.The Bottom Line

These three findings I hope add some clarity to a few of the common myths in our political coverage today:

  1. Donald Trump is not winning the national youth vote; at this moment, I am confident President Biden has a solid lead.
  2. As I wrote in early November in the New York Timesyoung people are proving you can have sympathy for both the Israeli and the Palestinian people. As for their leaders and governments — well, that’s another story.
  3. Young Americans have nuanced views on many issues, especially immigration. They see the chaos at the border, they are concerned, and believe it needs to be addressed swiftly. At the same time, they do not demonize immigrants — in fact, more agree than disagree that they add value to our culture, and do not disproportionately impact public safety or the job market.

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