Skip to content

GOP’s Opportunity With Millennials in 2016 May Be ‘Waning’

The percent of millennials who would prefer to see a Democrat in the White House has increased since the spring. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
The percent of millennials who would prefer to see a Democrat in the White House has increased since the spring. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

More than half of young Americans would prefer to see Democrats maintain control of the White House, according to the Harvard Institute of Politics’ most recent survey of 18- to 29-year-olds released Thursday.  

The 56 percent support for Democrats holding the executive branch is substantially higher than the 36 percent who said they’d prefer a Republican to win the presidency, and it represents a 5 point increase in support for Democrats since the same question was asked in the spring . Heading into 2016, approval of Republicans in Congress slipped to 19 percent from the 23 percent it had held at since the spring of 2014.  

“Data has been indicating the Republican Party could make this election more competitive with younger voters,” IOP’s Director of Polling John Della Volpe said. “But this opportunity could be waning,” he said Thursday on a conference call with reporters.  

Working with research partner GfK, the Institute surveyed more than 2,000 millennials online between Oct. 30 and Nov. 9 and has a 3-point error margin.  

Given that the poll was conducted more than a month ago, its snapshot of the presidential race, which showed Donald Trump leading the GOP pack and Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders leading Hillary Clinton in the Democratic race, is missing important events, most recently, Trump’s comments earlier this week about denying Muslims entry to the U.S.  

More meaningful than the poll’s horse race data may be what it says about young people’s general attitudes about the country’s future, and the political implications of those attitudes.  

After the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, the Institute went back to 435 respondents and found that 60 percent were in favor of the U.S. committing ground troops to fight the Islamic State terrorist group.
But those same young people were relatively unwilling to be part of the fight.  Only 16 percent said they had already joined the U.S. military or would strongly consider it if more troops were needed to take on ISIS.  

“There’s clearly a disconnect between what they want the country to do and what they’re willing to do as individuals,” Della Volpe said.  

Hispanics were significantly more likely than whites or blacks to say they’d already joined the military or would strongly consider it, and Republicans were more likely than Democrats or independents to respond that way.  

Immediately before the Paris attacks, attitudes toward using ground troops were split fairly even, with 47 percent supporting and 48 percent opposing that measure.  

Volpe cautioned, however, that the question didn’t ask specifically how many, where or how the troops should be deployed.  

The poll also asked millennials whether the American Dream is still a reality for their generation. Among those expressing a preference for a Republican candidate, Trump voters were least likely to say the “American Dream is alive for them,” while supporters of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz were more likely to say it still exists.  

A higher percent of Clinton than Sanders voters believed the American Dream is still alive.  

Notably, support for Sanders soared from 1 percent in the Institute’s spring poll to 41 percent in this latest survey, with 66 percent of respondents saying his identification as a self-described Democratic Socialist has no influence on their willingness to vote for him.  

Particularly troubling for both parties may be that 78 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they do not consider themselves to be “politically engaged or politically active,” which, despite being a year out from the presidential election, represents a 5 point increase from the percent who said they were not engaged in the spring.  

How should campaigns try to engage with young voters? Facebook and Instagram remain the most popular social media platforms for Americans ages 18 to 29.  


Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.

Recent Stories

Congress weighs proposals to renew key surveillance authority as deadline looms

Recreation bill aims to foster biking, target shooting on public lands

Capitol Lens | Steel curtain

Supreme Court casts doubt on agency enforcement actions without juries

Drama ahead of third Santos expulsion vote

Ousted as speaker, McCarthy has not decided about reelection