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Young people appear less likely to vote in 2024, Harvard poll finds

A child stands on a chair at a voting booth at a polling site in Pella, Iowa, on Election Day, Nov. 7, 2023.JORDAN GALE/NYT

Americans 18 to 29 appear less likely to hit the polls in next year’s presidential election than in 2020 and just 35 percent approve of President Biden, who still maintains an 11-point lead among young adults in a head-to-head rematch with former president Donald J. Trump, according to a new poll from the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics.

Pollsters, who surveyed close to 2,100 people between Oct. 23 and Nov. 6, found that 49 percent of respondents “definitely” plan to vote in the 2024 election, down from 57 percent at the same time in 2020, the institute said in a statement.

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“The bad news is that fewer young people intend to vote in this election compared to the Biden-Trump election of 2020,” said John Della Volpe, the institute’s polling director, in the statement. “The good news is there’s still time, and we know what Gen Z and young millennials want to see and hear. They want evidence that democracy works, that government can address our challenges, and that there’s a meaningful difference between the two parties.”

Despite his low approval rating, Biden holds a 41 percent to 30 percent lead over Trump among voters in that age bracket, the poll found. But more than two-thirds of Biden supporters said their vote was primarily motivated by a desire to keep Trump from regaining the presidency, rather than support for the Democratic incumbent and his policies.

Young adults also expressed strong support for unions and abortion rights, with 53 percent describing themselves as “pro-choice.”

Here are some additional key takeaways from the poll:

Tracking the drop-off in voting enthusiasm

The largest declines in voter enthusiasm came from the ranks of Republican and independent voters, according to the poll.

Fifty-six percent of young Republicans said they’ll “definitely” vote in the presidential election, compared to 66 percent in fall 2019, the poll found, while 31 percent of independents said they would definitely cast a ballot, down from 41 percent in 2019.

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Young Democrats, by contrast, are seeing just a slight dip in voting intention, with 66 percent saying they’ll definitely vote next year, compared to 68 percent in 2019.

The Census Bureau put voter turnout for Americans under 30 at 54 percent in 2020, according to the poll. An estimated 60 percent voted for Biden in 2020 versus 36 percent for Trump, according to CNN exit polls.

Young adults planning to vote for Biden don’t love Biden

Shepard Fairey lithographs he does not inspire.

According to the poll, 69 percent of young voters planning to back Biden are primarily doing so to keep Trump from regaining the presidency.

Despite facing a raft of felony charges in multiple jurisdictions, Trump maintains a commanding lead in the Republican primary, and the poll found that young GOP supporters are all in, with 65 percent saying they will vote for him of “loyalty to the former president and his policies.”

Independent candidates could chip away at Biden’s lead among the young

Add Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Joe Manchin, and Cornel West to the mix and Biden’s lead over Trump among young adults drops, the poll found.

In a hypothetical five-way race, Biden received 29 percent of the vote, with Trump just behind at 25 percent, followed by Kennedy at 10 percent, former Harvard professor West at 3 percent, and Manchin at 2 percent. Thirty-one percent of respondents said they “don’t know” who they would vote for under this scenario.

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Young people generally support unions

Fifty-nine percent of respondents reported a favorable view of unions for healthcare workers, along with 55 percent for manufacturing unions, 58 percent for teachers unions, 49 percent for autoworkers unions, and 45 percent for Starbucks unions.

The poll found that support for police unions is lower, coming in at 34 percent, while 27 percent of respondents held unfavorable views of such unions and 37 percent answered “don’t know” or did not share an opinion.

Young people care deeply about abortion access

Reproductive health continues to be a key issue for the 18 to 29 demographic after the US Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision.

Forty-four percent of respondents said abortion should be allowed “in all cases,” up from 36 percent in 2016, the last time the institute put the question to young voters, according to the survey.

Asked whether they consider themselves “pro-choice,” a term used to describe supporters of abortion rights, or “pro-life,” a term for opponents of abortion, 53 percent chose pro-choice, 26 percent said pro-life, 10 percent selected neither, and 10 percent picked the “don’t know” option, the poll found.

In addition, 69 percent of women and 55 percent of men said access to reproductive health care is an “important” factor when choosing a state to live in.

They could have learned a more about voting in high school

Fifty-seven percent of respondents said their high school education taught them about the importance of voting.

But just 36 percent agreed that their schooling taught them how to research candidates and ballot issues, the poll found.

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The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 2.86 percent, the statement said.

“As the 2024 campaign season kicks into high gear, candidates up and down the ballot would be wise to embrace the opportunity to listen to — and re-engage — this generation,” said Institute of Politics Director Setti Warren.

His words were echoed by Harvard junior Ethan Jasny, student chair of the Harvard Public Opinion Project.

“Young Americans are deeply passionate about issues ranging from abortion to labor rights, but they often struggle to see that passion represented in Washington,” Jasny said in the statement. “For turnout in 2024 to match the record numbers we saw in 2020, candidates must ensure that the values and energy of young Americans are reflected in their campaigns.”


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.