Just 41% of young Americans approve of President Joe Biden’s job performance, according to a new Harvard Institute of Politics poll of adults ages 18-29 released on Monday. That’s down from 46% in fall 2021 and a 59% majority last spring – a trend also seen in other recent surveys.
By comparison, according to past Harvard IOP polling, only 25% of young Americans approved of then-President Donald Trump heading into the 2018 midterm cycle. Twelve years ago, however, 56% approved of then-President Barack Obama ahead of the first midterm cycle of his presidency, when Democrats went on to lose the House in 2010.
Young adults give Biden better ratings for his handling of the coronavirus (52%) and the way he’s addressed the situation in Ukraine (46% approve) than they do for his handling of the economy (34% approve). That’s a similar pattern to how the full American public views Biden’s handling of the issues.
A 69% majority of young voters who backed Biden in the 2020 election still approve of his job performance. Those young Biden voters who’ve soured on the President differ from those who still approve of his performance in a number of ways, the survey finds.
“Overall, Biden voters who now disapprove of his performance rate him more harshly on the economy,” John Della Volpe, Harvard IOP’s polling director, writes in the survey’s release. “(T)hey see the current political system as ineffectual; they view the President as putting the interests of the elite over their own; they consume less political information; are more likely to be on Twitter; have less hope about the future; are more liberal; and more passionate about (canceling) student debt for everyone.”
The poll, which surveyed 2,024 US adults between the ages of 18 and 29, was conducted on March 15-30 using a nationally representative online panel. The margin of error for the total sample is +/- 2.89 percentage points.
Young Americans’ political disenchantment isn’t confined to opinions of Biden. Just 40% approve of congressional Democrats’ job performance, down from 52% in March 2021. And an even lower 31% approve of congressional Republicans’ performance, little changed from 28% last spring.
And compared to spring 2018 – heading into the previous midterm cycle – young adults are more likely to agree with pessimistic sentiments about politics and their own political efficacy. A 56% majority say they agree that “politics today are no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing,” up from 45% in 2018. Currently, 36% agree that “political involvement rarely has any tangible results,” up from 22% four years ago.
In an interview with CNN, Ed Kakenmaster, a 27-year-old who lives in Chicago, said he believes “younger people are burnt out by political discussions.”
“For a lot of my friends it’s like, ‘Alright let’s have fun and not talk about it as much,’ so it will be interesting to see what happens in 2022 because I think there may be quite a few people who don’t turn out to vote.”
In the Harvard poll, 36% of adults under 30 say they “definitely” plan to vote in the midterms, similar to the 37% who said the same at this stage in 2018.
While Kakenmaster said he cast a ballot for Biden in 2020, citing qualms with Trump, he said he is “conservative leaning” and plans to vote Republican in 2022. He listed rising crime, dissatisfaction with Chicago Democrats’ Covid-19 response, the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and inflation as reasons why he will vote for the GOP in 2022.
“With inflation and how he has blamed (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and Covid, and his failure to take responsibility for inflation – that is something that has rubbed me the wrong way because he’s the President, and you kind of expect for him to take ownership of that,” Kakenmaster said of Biden.
In the Harvard poll, 29% of young Americans name economic-related topics such as inflation and cost of living when asked to name the national issue that concerned them most. Another 18% name foreign policy or national security issues, with 8% mentioning environmental issues. Just 4% cite Covid-19 as their top concern.
Yet for her part, Krezzia Basilio, a 20-year-old first generation Filipino American, told CNN she still considers Covid to be one the biggest national hurdles, and as a student at University of California, she said it directly impacts her life on campus. She also listed wages and student loan forgiveness as issues she prioritizes.
“I know that Biden’s been talking a lot about loan forgiveness, which I think is very important, but I hope I can actually see it happen,” she said.
The Biden administration’s latest action on student debt will bring 3.6 million borrowers closer to loan forgiveness, CNN reported last week.
Basilio, who identified herself as on the left, said that while there is “not as much social media hype as compared to a presidential election,” she is “just as equally motivated to vote” in 2022 as she was in 2020.
“As a voter in California voting on ballots like the presidential election, I don’t think my vote carries that much weight,” she said. “But I definitely feel like when it comes to propositions and more local elections, I feel like our vote definitely matters much more.”
When asked by CNN what she views as the key issues ahead of the midterms, Caitlyn Foret, a 19-year-old student at the University of Houston who called herself “left leaning,” told CNN she views “polarization” as one of the biggest issues facing America today.
Foret said she encourages younger voters to vote less on party labels and more on “all points of policy.”
Many young Americans in minority groups also feel under threat because of their identity, the Harvard poll finds. A 59% majority of young Black adults say people of their racial background are under attack “a lot,” as do 43% of young Asian American and Pacific Islander adults, 37% of young Hispanic adults, and 19% of young White adults. The share of young Black Americans who feel under a lot of attack is similar to where it stood five years ago, while the share of young Hispanic Americans who feel a similar level of threat has decreased since 2017.
Just under half of “LGBTQ-identifying youth,” 45%, say they feel as though people with their sexual orientation are under attack a lot.
And 46% of young Republicans say they believe those who share their political views are under attack a lot, compared with 24% of young Democrats who say the same.
Jack Dillard, a 23-year-old from Atlanta who voted for Trump in 2020, said it is “a positive” that in “people are more comfortable sharing their opinions and voicing their own concerns” in today’s political climate.
He added that all opinions should be “equally valued.”
Yet, as a Trump-supporting conservative, Dillard said he is hesitant to speak out about his beliefs.
“I don’t post about my politic(s),” he said, referring to his social media habits, “because I feel as though that’s not the norm.”