Youth Poll

Table of Contents

  1. Youth turnout in 2022 currently tracking record-breaking 2018 turnout; 55% of likely voters prefer Democratic control of Congress, 34% prefer Republican control. A majority disapprove of both parties’ performance in Congress amid weakening feelings of political efficacy
  2. 41% of young Americans approve of President Biden’s job performance overall; A majority (52%) approve of his handling of the pandemic, 46% approve of his performance regarding Ukraine – but only one-in-three approve of how the President is handling the economy (34%)
  3. Half of young Americans believe the GOP cares more about “the interests of the elite” than for people like them (21%); a plurality (39%) say the same about Democrats; 3-in-5 see the other party as a threat to democracy
  4. Young Americans, across demographic and partisan divides, are overwhelmingly comfortable with a close friend coming out as LGBTQ; steady support charted for more than a decade
  5. Despite growing acceptance of LGBTQ-identifying youth, nearly half (45%) of LGBTQ youth feel under attack “a lot” because of their sexual orientation and are nearly three times as likely as straight youth (LGBTQ: 28%, Straight: 11%) to be uncomfortable expressing their identity and true self with family. 
  6. Large proportions of minority groups in the United States – representing race, religion, politics, and sexuality – feel under attack in America
  7. Second to the economy, young Americans rank education as more important to America’s future global strength than the military, technology, or democracy; still, only one-third (34%) are satisfied with the current state of K-12 public education
  8. By 2-to-1 margins, young Americans are supportive of greater parental control over education and candidates that support teaching K-12 students that racism – intentional or not – is a fixture of American laws and institutions
  9. 85% of young Americans favor some form of government action on student loan debt, but only 38% favor total debt cancellation
  10. 10. Despite the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, there’s virtually no improvement in the mental health of young Americans; a majority (52%) report feelings of depression or hopelessness, and 24% report thoughts of self-harm; 71% agree that there’s a mental health crisis in America
  11. About half (51%) of young Americans with recent thoughts of self-harm and 61% of those with depression indicate they have support or resources to help them deal; significant differences exist based on race
  12. Nearly half of young Americans report that politics and news media have had negative impacts on their mental health; feelings about school and work are more positive
Show more

A national poll released today by the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School indicates that while 18-to-29-year-olds are on track to match 2018’s record-breaking youth turnout in a midterm election this November and prefer Democratic control 55%-34%, there was a sharp increase in youth believing that “political involvement rarely has tangible results” (36%), their vote “doesn’t make a difference” (42%) and agreement that “politics today are no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing” (56%). President Biden’s job approval has dropped to 41% among young Americans, down from 46% in the IOP Fall 2021 poll and down 18% overall in the past year.

The Spring 2022 Harvard Youth Poll finds that 59% of young Black Americans, 43% of young Asian Americans, and 37% of young Hispanic Americans feel “under attack” “a lot” in America. Nearly half of LGBTQ youth feel under attack “a lot.”

When it comes to student loans, 85% of young Americans favor some form of government action on student loan debt, but only 38% favor total debt cancellation. And the poll also finds that at two-to-one margins, young Americans are supportive of greater parental control over K-12 education and supportive of candidates that support teaching K-12 students that racism – intentional or not – is a fixture of American laws and institutions.

For over twenty years, the Harvard Public Opinion Project has provided the most comprehensive look at the political opinions, voting trends, and views on public service held by young Americans. The Spring 2022 survey, conducted between March 15 and March 30, also builds upon the work of the Spring 2021 and Fall 2021 polls to examine the troubling mental health crisis among young Americans.

“In the past two election cycles, America’s youngest voters have proven themselves to be a formidable voting bloc with a deep commitment to civic engagement. Our new poll shows a pragmatic idealism as they consider the state of our democracy and the concerning challenges they face in their lives,” said IOP Director Mark Gearan ‘78. “Elected officials from both parties would benefit from listening to young Americans and as we head into the midterm elections.”

“While this is an off-year election; there’s no evidence in this survey that young Americans are off the grid. Their contempt for a system that favors the elite and is overwhelmingly partisan is clear, but at the same time they see a role for government and are unlikely to abandon those most in need. While the composition of the electorate will likely shift, at this point young people seem as, if not more engaged, than they were in recent midterms,” said IOP Polling Director John Della Volpe, author of the 2022 book Fight: How Gen Z Is Channeling Their Fear and Passion to Save America.

“Our generation faces a persisting mental health crisis fueled by the current state of American politics, yet despite it all, we remain a generation of empathy and compassion – driven to action by our desire for a better future for all,” said Alan Zhang ‘24, Student Chair of the Harvard Public Opinion Project (HPOP). “To earn the trust of young people in this moment of crisis, those in power must understand that young Americans, especially our LGBTQ peers, live our lives feeling constantly under threat – and act accordingly.”

Top findings of this survey, the 43rd in the biannual series, include the following:

1. Youth turnout in 2022 currently tracking record-breaking 2018 turnout; 55% of likely voters prefer Democratic control of Congress, 34% prefer Republican control. A majority disapprove of both parties’ performance in Congress amid weakening feelings of political efficacy

  • More than six months out, youth turnout in 2022 midterm elections is on track to match 2018 turnout, with 36% of young Americans reporting that they will “definitely” be voting compared to 37% at this stage in 2018.

  • Compared with Spring 2018 Harvard IOP polling, the composition of the electorate looks different. Young Democrats (38% of 18–29-year-olds) are less likely (-5 points) and young Republicans (25% of 18-29-year-olds) are more likely (+7) to vote at this stage. While interest among white and Hispanic voters did not change significantly, young Asian American and Pacific Islander voters show increased interest (+13), while young Black Americans show significantly less interest in voting (-13) than they did at this point in the 2018 midterm election cycle.

  • Overall, 40% of Americans under 30 prefer Democrats maintain control of Congress, while 28% prefer Republicans; 32% are unsure. This +12-point margin for Democrats widens to +21 when the lens is narrowed to likely voters. Among likely voters who are unaffiliated or independent, Democrats lead +14, with more than a quarter (27%) undecided.

  • A warning sign that interest in voting in the 2022 midterms could wane, we found a sharp decrease relative to Spring 2018 in attitudes related to the efficacy of voting and political engagement relative. For example:

    •  The percentage of youth agreeing that “political involvement rarely has any tangible results” has risen from 22% in 2018 to 36% in 2022.

    • Agreement with the statement “I don’t believe my vote will make a real difference,” increased from 31% in 2018 to 42% in 2022.

    •  Agreement that “politics today are no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing,” increased from 45% in 2018 to 56% in 2022.

2. 41% of young Americans approve of President Biden’s job performance overall; A majority (52%) approve of his handling of the pandemic, 46% approve of his performance regarding Ukraine – but only one-in-three approve of how the President is handling the economy (34%)

  • At 41%, President Biden’s job approval among young Americans is down 18 percentage points since Spring 2021 (59%) and five points since the last Harvard IOP youth poll release in Fall 2021 (46%). Seventy percent (70%) of young Democrats now approve of President Biden’s job performance (-5 since Fall 2021), as compared to 33% of independents (-6) and 11% of Republicans (+2). For comparison, President Trump’s approval was 25% at this stage in the 2018 midterm cycle and President Obama’s approval was 56% in the Spring of 2010.

  • The leading reason cited for disapproval of Biden is “ineffectiveness” (36%), which leads other options provided to respondents such as “not following through on campaign promises” (14%) and “not sharing my values” (10%).

  • Nearly half (49%) of young Americans believe that things in the nation are off on the wrong track, with only 13% saying they are headed in the right direction. This stands in contrast to the Spring 2021 survey where about one-third (35%) believed things were headed off on the wrong track, and 26% said right direction.

  • Two-in-five (40%) young Democrats indicate they want to see and hear more from President Biden, compared to 21% of Republicans and 18% of independents who say the same.

3. Half of young Americans believe the GOP cares more about “the interests of the elite” than for people like them (21%); a plurality (39%) say the same about Democrats; 3-in-5 see the other party as a threat to democracy

  • Forty percent (40%) of young Americans approve of the job performance of Democrats in Congress, 31% approve of the job that Republicans are doing in Congress. These ratings are virtually unchanged since the Fall 2021 survey (Democrats -2, Republicans even).

  • By a double-digit margin (-11), young Americans believe the Democratic party cares more about serving the interests of the elite (39%) than young people like them (28%). Among likely voters in the Fall midterm, the margin is -10, and it swells to -25 among likely voters who are white, -19 among likely male voters, and -17 among likely voters without a college degree or experience.

  • Current perceptions of the Republican party are more negative as 51% of young Americans under 30 believe the GOP cares more about the elite than serving the interests of people like them (21%). This -30-point margin is triple the Democratic party’s deficit and rises to -38 among likely voters. Across every major demographic subgroup, more youth believe Republicans favor the elite. Among likely young voters who are men, the margin is -27, among women it is -55, and among likely white voters the margin is -34.

  • The survey found that 59% of young Democrats and 61% of young Republicans see the other party as a threat to democracy. Among likely voters, 74% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans saw the other party as a threat to democracy.

  • In an open-ended question about which part of their identity they consider most when voting, we found notable differences between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats are more likely to consider gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual identity, while Republicans are more likely to consider religion, faith, political and party preferences when voting.

4. Young Americans, across demographic and partisan divides, are overwhelmingly comfortable with a close friend coming out as LGBTQ; steady support charted for more than a decade

  • Nearly three-quarters (72%) of young Americans report they are either “very” or “somewhat” comfortable with a close friend coming out as LGBTQ. The poll finds that 84% of Democrats, 53% of Republicans and 74% of independents are comfortable, as are 68% of males, 76% of females, 72% of young Catholics, and 61% of young Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christians.

  • The poll also found widespread support of close friends who are transitioning and for the use of they/them pronouns, but strong partisan divides emerge:

    • 61% of young Americans are comfortable with a close friend transitioning from one gender to another (77% Democrat, 33% Republican, 64% independent);

    • 56% of young Americans are comfortable with using they/them pronouns (73% Democrat, 32% Republican, 54% independent); and

    • 46% are comfortable with transgender athletes participating in sports (65% Democrat, 20% Republican, 44% independent).

  • Over the last decade, overall acceptance for same-sex relationships has increased significantly among young Americans. In 2011, a quarter (25%) indicated such relationships were morally wrong, 42% disagreed, while 29% were unsure (net difference 17 points). Now, more than a decade later, we found that 23% find them morally wrong, with 52% disagreeing with this viewpoint (and 24% unsure), which indicates growing support for LGBTQ-identifying peers (net difference 29).

5. Despite growing acceptance of LGBTQ-identifying youth, nearly half (45%) of LGBTQ youth feel under attack “a lot” because of their sexual orientation and are nearly three times as likely as straight youth (LGBTQ: 28%, Straight: 11%) to be uncomfortable expressing their identity and true self with family. 

  • About one-in-five young 18-to-29-year-olds identify as LGBTQ (21%) – of which 45% report feeling under “a lot” of attack in America because of their sexual orientation. Of the 79% of straight-identifying youth in our poll, nearly one-fifth (18%) feel under “a lot” of attack for similar reasons.

  • Only about one-third (34%) of LGBTQ youth feel “very comfortable” expressing their true selves with family, while 61% of straight youth feel the same way; another 36% of LGBTQ youth and 24% of straight youth say they feel “somewhat comfortable.” Time with family represents the only major difference between LGBTQ and straight youth on a battery of questions that probed other personal and professional areas. For example:

    •  60% of LGBTQ youth and 55% of straight youth are very comfortable expressing their identity with friends;

    • 32% of LGBTQ youth and 29% of straight youth are very comfortable expressing their identity at school;

    •  30% of LGBTQ youth and 22% of straight youth are very comfortable expressing their identity on social media;

    • 25% of LGBTQ youth and 31% of straight youth are very comfortable expressing their identity at work.

  • When the same battery of questions is filtered through political party, we find young Republicans (68%) are more likely than Democrats (53%) to feel “very comfortable” expressing their identity with family, but no other partisan differences emerge when asked about friends, social media, school, or work.

6. Large proportions of minority groups in the United States  representing race, religion, politics, and sexuality  feel under attack in America

  • Three-fifths (59%) of young Black Americans believe people of their racial background are under “a lot” of attack in America, 43% of AAPI youth, 37% of Hispanics, and 19% of whites feel the same. Compared to Spring 2017, the percent of young Blacks who feel under “a lot” of attack for their race has stayed relatively constant (2017: 62%), and for young Hispanics, the proportion who felt under “a lot” of attack for their race decreased from 46% to 37%.

  • Despite small sample sizes, we find that young Muslims, Jews, and Evangelical Christians are more likely to say people with their religious beliefs are under attack “a lot” when compared to Protestants and Catholics.

  • As noted above, 45% of LGBTQ-identifying youth feel like people with their sexual orientation are under attack “a lot.”

  • Nearly half of young Republicans (46%) believe that people who hold their political views are under attack “a lot” in America, compared to 24% of Democrats who feel the same way.

7. Second to the economy, young Americans rank education as more important to America’s future global strength than the military, technology, or democracy; still, only one-third (34%) are satisfied with the current state of K-12 public education

  •  Overall, 50% of young Americans ranked education as one of the two most important factors to America’s global strength in the future; fewer Republicans (39%) rated education as one of the top two factors than Democrats (54%); Democrats ranked education first among all factors, including above the economy.

  • While only 34% of 18-to-29-year-olds express satisfaction with the public education system, 57% were satisfied with the quality of their own K-12 education. Satisfaction tracked closely with higher educational attainment, with 67% of college graduates reporting satisfaction versus 51% of those with high school degrees only. Additionally, we found that registered voters (62%) were more satisfied with their education than others (48%), as were those living in suburbs (61%) compared to urban (55%), small town (55%) and rural (52%) residents.

  • A strong majority (58%) of young Americans believe that “K-12 public schools should teach what is morally right and wrong,” and only 13% disagreed (28% neither agreed nor disagreed) with almost no variation across demographic, educational, or party lines. For example, 62% of young Americans who voted for Joe Biden agreed with that sentiment compared to 61% of Trump voters.

8. By 2-to-1 margins, young Americans are supportive of greater parental control over education and candidates that support teaching K-12 students that racism  intentional or not  is a fixture of American laws and institutions

  • Nearly half of young Americans (46%) agree with the statement that “parents should have more control over their children’s education than they do now,” while 23% disagreed. While Democrats are slightly more likely to agree (35%) than disagree, (31%) one-third (33%) chose the “neither agree nor disagree” option. Support for greater parental involvement is overwhelming for Republicans (64% agree, 14% disagree) and strong for independent and unaffiliated young voters (44% agree, 20% disagree) as well.

  • Approximately half of the survey respondents were asked their level of agreement with the statement that they “would vote for a candidate who supports K-12 public schools teaching that racism – intentional or not – is a fixture of American laws and institutions,” while the other half were asked about agreement with “I would vote for a candidate who supports K-12 public schools teaching critical race theory. In both cases, support for teaching about systemic racism was 2:1 (46%-22% when critical race theory was not mentioned and 44%-22% with critical race theory mentioned).

  • Regardless of question-wording, young white voters supported teaching K-12 students about the history of race in America. The divides among parties were prominent: 70% of Democrats under 30 were supportive of candidates who support teaching that racism is a fixture of American laws and institutions, compared to 23% of Republicans and a plurality of independents (37%). Support for candidates in favor of teaching “critical race theory” without a further definition: Democrats 63%, Republicans 22%, independents 38%.

9. 85% of young Americans favor some form of government action on student loan debt, but only 38% favor total debt cancellation

  • Though nearly nine-in-ten young Americans under 30 agree that action is needed, young Americans had no clear consensus on a path forward related to student loan debt. A plurality favors full debt cancellation (38%), while 27% favor government assisting with repayment options without any debt cancellation, and 21% favor debt cancellation for those with the most need.  Only 13% believe the government should not change current policy. Since 2020, support for full cancellation increased 5 percentage points, while preference for the government helping with repayment decreased 8 points.

  • Opinions on this issue do not differ significantly among likely voters in the 2022 midterms compared to the broader population of 18-to-29-year-olds as 83% of young likely voters express a preference for government action, including 79% of those not in college now, and without a degree.

  • Among Democrats likely to vote in November:

    • 43% favor canceling student loan debt for everyone

    • 29% favor canceling student loan debt for only those most in need

    • 19% favor not canceling debt, but helping with repayment options

    • 4% favor not changing the current policy

  • For Republicans likely to vote in November:

    • 13% favor canceling student loan debt for everyone

    • 11% favor canceling student loan debt for only those most in need

    • 39% favor not canceling debt, but helping with repayment options

    • 36% favor not changing the current policy

  • For independents likely to vote in November:

    • 38% favor canceling student loan debt for everyone

    • 18% favor canceling student loan debt for only those most in need

    • 30% favor not canceling debt, but helping with repayment options

    • 14% favor not changing the current policy

  • A majority (54%) of white Americans and 49% of Asian Americans under 30 “strongly” agreed with the statement “I grew up thinking it was possible for me to go to college,” compared to only 32% of Blacks and 38% of Hispanics under 30. Overall, 47% of all young Americans strongly agreed with the statement, while an additional 23% somewhat agreed (total agreement 71% with rounding).

  • Asked whether they agree with the statement, “Going to college is worth the time and money,” we find 48% of young Americans agreed (but only 18% strongly agreed), 26% disagreed, and 24% chose a neutral position. Sixty-two percent (62%) of college students and 61% of college graduates agree with this sentiment.

10. Despite the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, there’s virtually no improvement in the mental health of young Americans; a majority (52%) report feelings of depression or hopelessness, and 24% report thoughts of self-harm; 71% agree that there’s a mental health crisis in America

  • Most young Americans under 30 (52%) report feeling “down, depressed, or hopeless” for several days or more in the past two weeks. Unlike many other areas in the survey, there are no statistical differences based on age, level of education, race, ethnicity, or whether someone lives in the city, suburb, small town, or rural area. At least 50% of every subgroup in these categories indicate symptoms. We did however find that young women (59%) were more likely than men (44%) to report these symptoms, as were Democrats (56%) over Republicans (41%).

  • While 24% of 18-to-29-year-olds report having thoughts at least several times in the last two weeks that they would be “better off dead” or of “hurting themselves,” this represents a slight improvement over the 28% who said the same one year ago. These feelings are more prevalent in young Americans who are:

    • Black (35%) or AAPI (33%);

    • Female (26%);

    • LGBTQ (39%); and

    • In a “bad” financial position (35%).

  • Nearly three-quarters of young Americans overall (72%), and those on both sides of the aisle – 76% of Democrats and 72% of Republicans – agree that “the United States has a mental health crisis.” Only six percent (6%) of respondents disagreed, while the remaining 20% responded that they neither agree nor disagree with the statement.

  • About a quarter of young Americans (26%) know of a peer or family member who has died from suicide. Nearly two-in-five (38%) of LGBTQ-identifying youth know someone, compared with 24% of straight youth. Those who know someone who has died from suicide have a higher rate of feeling depressed (62% compared to 49%) and of having thoughts of self-harm (30% compared to 21).

11. About half (51%) of young Americans with recent thoughts of self-harm and 61% of those with depression indicate they have support or resources to help them deal; significant differences exist based on race

  • Fifty-seven percent (57%) of whites suffering from thoughts of self-harm have access to support or resources, while only 40% of Blacks say the same.

  • Among those suffering from bouts of depression or hopelessness, 61% say they have access to support, but that number dips to 48% for Blacks, compared to 68% of young whites.

  • When young Americans suffering from depression or hopelessness were asked their interest in several potential support services and resources, we found the most interest in spending time outside (50% interested), support of family and friends (47%), and sports or exercise (43%). Additionally, we found that nearly two-fifths (38%) were interested in professional therapy, followed by meditation (29%), prescription medication (26%), church or religion (18%), alcohol or recreational drugs (18%), and support by authority figures (8%).

12. Nearly half of young Americans report that politics and news media have had negative impacts on their mental health; feelings about school and work are more positive

  • Nearly half of 18-to-29-year-olds (45%) report that politics has had a negative impact on their mental health and only 13% report a positive impact. Among those who identify as LGBTQ, the rate is nearly two-thirds (64%), while 42% for straight youth. Young Americans who do not identify with a major party are more likely than others (17% independent, 12% Democrat, 11% Republican) to say that politics has had a very negative impact on their mental health.

  • Similarly, 46% report that the news media have a negative impact on their mental health.

  • Nearly two-in-five (37%) report that social media has a negative impact on their mental health, while 22% report a positive impact and 39% report no effect. There is no statistical difference based on age, but we found that young women (42%) were somewhat more likely to cite negative mental health effects of social media than young men (35%).

  • On the other hand, 45% report that work has had a positive impact on their mental health and only 21% report a negative impact. The fact that over three-quarters of young Americans find that work does not have a negative impact on their mental health accords with a finding from the Fall 2021 survey, in which 72% of respondents said that, outside of compensation, they find “some” or “a lot” of meaning in their work.

  • High school experience, while nearly as likely to have a positive impact, is more polarizing: 42% report that school has had a positive impact but 34% report that it has had a negative one.

Read Also
Student Resources Best Scholarships in the UK for International...

Why Do Scholarships Matter for International Students? One of the primary reasons why scholarships make a major difference in the UK is the cost of academic courses that usually do not come...

Why Do Scholarships Matter for International Students? One of the...

Student Resources Scholarships for Women

The Ultimate List Of Scholarships For Women And Girls Recent years have been truly empowering for women. Women's voices become louder and more confident, women’s rights are a constant...

The Ultimate List Of Scholarships For Women And Girls Recent years...

Student Resources Navigating the Future Workforce: Addressing the...

The evolution of the job market is an ever-revolving door with changing dynamics influenced by technology, demographics, and global shifts. Contrary to the prevalent notion of robots...

The evolution of the job market is an ever-revolving door with...