National Poll: Young Voters Lean Left, Democrats Not Seeing Expected Support

May 22, 2014


A recent national poll looked at how young people will affect the midterm elections.

Pollster Harstad Strategic Research used a diverse sampling of more than 2,000 registered and nonregistered voters 18 to 30 years old. They represent 38 million registered voters of that age. Paul Harstad is a lead pollster for the research group that has polled for President Barack Obama since 2002, when the Democrat was an Illinois state senator considering a run for the U.S. Senate.

“We asked about the 2016 election for President…55 percent of all millenials say ‘I am definitely going to vote’.” Harstad explained. “But if you look at 2014, only 28 percent say ‘I’m definitely going to vote for Congress.’ That points out what is admittedly a real challenge for Democrats this election year, but also what is a real opportunity.”

Of those polled, 56 percent said they supported President Obama in the previous election compared to 29 percent for Republican challenger Mitt Romney, even if they didn’t vote. Also, when asked how they would vote in November’s midterm elections for Congress, 42 percent said Democrat, 27 percent Republican. Participants were also asked their stance on 20 issues ranging from global warming to gay marriage. The numbers show young voters lean to the left on the issues, but Democrats do not enjoy the corresponding voter support, according to Harstad.

“Democrats are underperforming two ways,” Harstad said. “If 72 percent of voters think government should be more involved and 71 percent on average take a progressive stand on these issues and Democrats are at 44 or 46 percent vote and ID, they’re underperforming. They’re underperforming in terms of their potential on a substantive level and they are underperforming in midterm elections in terms of turnout.”

Alexandra Acker-Lyons is the director of the Youth Engagement Fund. She says millenials are key as they will represent one-third of the electorate in 2020, but as a voter population cannot be placed in a single category.

“I think a lot of people tend to associate young voters with a young person who is attending college full-time at a four-year university,” Acker-Lyons said. “Essentially that’s only 25 percent of 18-24 year-olds and a much lower percent of 18-30 year-olds overall. So we are really looking at full time students, part-time students who are attending community college and working multiple jobs, young people with families and young people with incredibly varied economic situations.”

The pollsters found young people remain relatively optimistic about their futures and ability to make an impact, but only 70 percent are registered to vote. Of those not registered, 25 percent said it’s because they are disengaged while one-third are skeptical about the voting process. Jill Hanauer is president of Project New America. Because people tend to become more politically active as they age, she says those not yet 18 represent a key electorate population.

“Looking at the next generation of voters, those who are 16 and 17 who vote for the first time either in 2014 or 2016 and making sure that they develop voting habits that they’re going to carry through their life,” Hanauer said. “It’s really critical because they are more disillusioned and a little less confident in what’s going to be available to them economically and education-wise. So if we don’t understand that group versus the older group it’s really not to a party’s peril, but to the democratic process’ peril.”