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‘Millennials’ cynical about politics

Harvard poll finds low interest in midterm elections

A new poll of 18- to 29-year-olds found members of the millennial generation are cynical about the political process, increasingly distrustful of the institutions of American government, concerned about economic inequality in the United States, and exhibit low interest in voting in the midterm elections.

More than half of respondents in the survey, released Tuesday morning by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, said they think elected officials don’t share their priorities, and almost two-thirds said elected officials seem motivated by selfish reasons. Less than a quarter of the millennials polled said they will definitely be voting in November.

“It’s been clear for some time now that young people are growing more disillusioned and disconnected from Washington,” said Harvard Institute of Politics polling director John Della Volpe in a statement. “There’s an erosion of trust in the individuals and institutions that make government work — and now we see the lowest level of interest in any election we’ve measured since 2000.”

The poll found millennials’ trust in American institutions, such as the president, the military, and the Supreme Court, has declined over the past year. In 2013, for example, 54 percent of respondents said they trusted the US military to do the right thing all or most of the time. That number dropped to 47 percent in the new poll.


It also found millennials jaded about politics and politicians.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents agreed with the statement “Elected officials don’t seem to have the same priorities I have,” while only 9 percent disagreed with it.

Sixty-two percent agreed with the statement, “Elected officials seem to be motivated by selfish reasons,” while only 7 percent disagreed.

The poll found low interest among millennials in the November midterm elections, which will determine whether Republicans or Democrats control the Senate and House of Representatives. Twenty-three percent of respondents said they “definitely will be voting,” 16 percent said they will probably be voting, a quarter said it was “50-50” if they will vote. A combined 36 percent said they probably or definitely will not be voting.


And in a potentially foreboding sign for Democrats, self-identified conservatives were 10 points more likely than liberals to say they will definitely vote in November, the survey found.

Economic issues were also of concern.

Just over half of those surveyed said they believed the income gap between the rich and everyone else in America was a major problem. Sixty-four percent said that gap had increased in their lifetimes.

But the poll also found an abiding faith among millennials in the idea that each generation can do as well as or better than their parents. Forty-one percent said they believed when they are their parents’ age, they will be better off financially than their parents are now; 28 percent said they believed they would be doing about the same as their parents. Only 15 percent expected to be worse off financially.

“It’s not all gloomy,” Della Volpe, the pollster, said in an interview. He added the generation does have an unflappable “faith in their community, their country” and they “care deeply about making both of those things better.”

Meanwhile, looking toward the 2016 race for the White House, 52 percent of respondents had a favorable view of Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state who is seen as a top Democratic contender for president. Forty-two percent had an unfavorable view of her, and 5 percent had never heard of her.


New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a potential Republican White House hopeful, was less known and seen less favorably among millennials, the poll found. Twenty-one percent had a favorable view of him and 39 percent had an unfavorable view. Thirty-nine percent had never heard of the second-term governor, who has seen his political fortunes fall in the wake of the imbroglio over lane closings at a George Washington Bridge toll plaza in September.

The poll, conducted by the research company GfK, surveyed 3,058 Americans 18 to 29 years old online in English and Spanish from March 22 through April 4. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.8 percentage points.

Joshua Miller can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.