Introduction

The Harvard Public Opinion Project polls young Americans to understand their political persuasions and motivations. In the wake of massive protests against the Trump Administration and its policies, in which many young Americans participated, it is as important as ever to understand the political beliefs and attitudes of millennials. HPR writers dissect the data to offer insights into the political landscape of America's youth. Image Credit: Ted Eytan/Flickr

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HPRgument Posts | April 25, 2017 at 10:50 am

Despite Dissatisfaction, Millennials Hesitant to Engage in Politics

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The divisive nature of the 2016 election stirred up heated rhetoric on both sides of the political aisle. Hillary Clinton garnered 55 percent of the youth vote, and her loss devastated many millenials. While the election certainly served to highlight the impact that political engagement can have on the electoral process, results from the Harvard Public Opinion Project’s Spring 2017 survey found that despite an apparent increase in millennials’ interest in and appreciation of the relevance of politics, only 25 percent found the idea of working in public service to be appealing.

Since 2012, the percentage of millennials believing that political involvement can have tangible results increased from 27 percent to 33 percent. Similarly, there was a seven-point increase in the percentage of respondents who found politics directly relevant to their daily lives. However, this change does not seem to have resulted from improved results on the part of the government; the percentage of respondents that agreed with the statement, “elected officials don’t seem to have the same priorities I have” remained steady at 55 percent agreement in 2012 and 53 percent agreement in 2017.

Despite dissatisfaction with the status quo, millennials nonetheless hold little interest in running for elected office. On average, respondents stated that there is only a 9 percent chance that they will run for elected office by the time they are 50 years old. This number is only slightly higher at 17 percent among those who are already politically active. However, attempts to interpret this information as evidence that millennials are unwilling to engage in politics would be misguided. First of all, voter turnout rate among millennials was only slightly lower than that of the general population at 50 percent and 55 percent, respectively. Furthermore, perhaps these statistics are indicative of the fact that young people engage with politics in a manner different from their older counterparts. 53 percent of respondents stated that “talking about important issues” was one of the top three most effective ways to produce change in American society. This provides greater context to the fact that 40 percent of respondents with a Facebook account liked a political issue, 34 percent liked a political candidate, and 24 percent wrote a status to advocate for a political position.

Regardless of their hesitancy to enter public service, young people want to do what they can to improve the state of the country. 59 percent of millennials agree with the statement, “I want to do what I can to help unite, not further divide, America.” However, there is nonetheless a large difference between wanting to do something and acting upon that impulse. Pundits have been eager to criticize millennials seemingly disparate political opinions and their methods of political engagement, but a more in-depth analysis of their beliefs puts things into perspective. In an increasingly technologically dependent world, millennials inform, interact, and debate online. Millennials may be ahead of the curve and politicians just have to catch up.

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