The percentage of young Americans planning to vote in November declined sharply in the past five months, especially among Democratic constituencies, according to a survey offering further evidence that President Obama's coalition may not translate down ballot.
Increasingly cynical about the political process, members of the millennial generation are reporting the lowest level of interest in any election since Harvard University's Institute of Politics began tracking them in 2000.
Despite a slight recovery in Obama's approval rating among young voters, the IOP survey found that just 23 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 say they will "definitely be voting" in the November elections. That is an 11-point decline since the fall, when the IOP last surveyed a broad cross section of young adults.
At the same point in the 2010 election cycle, 31 percent of young adults said they would vote. Fewer actually cast ballots: According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates summarized by CIRCLE, 24 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds voted in the 2010 election, a decrease of 1.5 percentage points from 2006.
"It's been clear for some time now that young people are growing more disillusioned and disconnected from Washington," said IOP Polling Director John Della Volpe. "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."
Young Republicans appear more enthusiastic about the midterms than young Democrats. For instance, 44 percent of those who voted for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012 say they are definitely voting in November, compared with just 35 percent of the 2012 Obama voters.
Self-identified conservatives are 10 points more likely to vote than liberals, according to the survey. Young men are 9 points more likely to vote than young women. Whites are 8 points more likely to vote than blacks and Hispanics. Each trend favors the GOP coalition.
The poll found Obama had an approval rating of 47 percent, up 6 points from his low last fall but still below his level of 12 months ago. Approval for his signature health care law rebounded 5 points to 39 percent.
The online survey of 3,058 18- to 29-year-old U.S. citizens has a margin of error of 1.8 percentage points. It was conducted by GfK and IOP between March 22 and April 4, with input from IOP undergraduates, as part of a comprehensive study of millennial political and social attitudes launched in 2000.
Ron Fournier serves on the Harvard IOP advisory board.