Introduction

Every fall and spring, the Harvard Public Opinion Project (HPOP) releases America's largest poll of young people. The poll usually gets a great deal of national coverage. Unfortunately, much of this coverage only goes skin deep, highlighting the supposed apathy of young people in America and our cynicism about the future of politics. This project, a partnership between HPOP and the HPR, aims to provide some additional context and analysis. Indeed, on everything from Internet privacy to college tuition, millennials don't seem to fit any convenient political mold. They're deep thinking, conflicted, and crucial to America's future. Read our articles to find out more. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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HPRgument Posts | December 4, 2013 at 10:01 am

Angry, Yet Apathetic: The Young American Voter

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Fifty-Two Percent of Millennials Would Recall Every Member of Congress

The 2013 Harvard Public Opinion Project found that a majority of 18-to-29-year-old Americans would replace every member of Congress, if given the chance. In the poll, dissatisfaction with Congress was basically uniform across party lines, with 52 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of Republicans indicating that they would recall and replace Congress.

There are plenty of reasons why an American on either side of the political spectrum might want to purge Capitol Hill—during the survey period of the poll alone, Healthcare.gov seemed terminally ill in its infancy, Obama gave an apology to Americans losing their coverage, and Republican leaders vowed to keep immigration reform off the books for the rest of 2013.  The public is still reeling from a 16-day-long government shutdown, wherein Congress was deadlocked by an attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act. With a fumbling administration at the helm of a government where political brinksmanship is the new status quo, it is no surprise that only 14 percent of Millennials believe that America is moving in the right direction.  As far as many young Americans are concerned, a sweeping change in the makeup of Congress would soothe the vexing mix of legislative drama and executive underperformance, at least in part.

Yes—Capitol Hill in 2013 is the kind of mess that would bring people in droves to the voting booths. Perhaps more than ever before, young American voters feel that their futures are threatened by the shenanigans in Washington, D.C. Obviously fed up enough to make sweeping changes in the makeup of Congress, Millennials must be poised to wield the vote to push back against all the gridlock and grandstanding, right?

Not really.

 

Of Those Who Would Replace Congress, Only Half Intend to Vote in the 2014 Midterm Elections

For a group of people with a majority that would send every representative packing, Millennials are profoundly ambivalent, according to Harvard’s poll.  Approximately half those who advocate replacing Congress claim that they will definitely or very likely vote in the midterm elections.  Out of all respondents in the survey, 26 percent said that they would definitely not or probably not vote in the midterm elections.

Why are so many turning down the opportunity to recall part of Congress?

Many Millennials seem to be gripped by a combination of angst and apathy when it comes to American politics.  Of the 2,089 questioned, 75 percent do not self-identify as politically active.  While 30 percent feel that they are more likely to vote in 2014 because of the shutdown, 9 percent feel less likely to vote because of it, and 57 percent do not believe that 16 days of gridlock in Congress had any effect on the likelihood of them getting to the polls.  It is safe to say that a combination of cynicism and apathy describes many would-be voters.

Contempt for contemporary politics does not seem to prompt participation in Millennials.  Those who believe that the country is moving in the right direction are 11 percent more likely to be politically active than those who indicated that the United States is moving in the wrong direction, and 82 percent of those who identified as politically active said they will likely or definitely vote in 2014. Only 42 percent of the self-described politically inactive plan on voting in the midterm elections. In many cases, dissatisfaction seems to lead to chosen disenfranchisement.

Whether or not the frustration that Capitol Hill causes many in the electorate will lead to more political activity than it deters remains to be seen.  In any case, candidates in the 2014 Congressional race that convince voters that they will put a stop to the goings on as of late in Washington, D.C., have promising odds.

 

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