Millennials are a tough group to pin down — with their lack of landlines, refusal to answer cellphones and reluctance to respond to online surveys.
But one study has managed to capture what 18- to 29-year-olds are thinking about in the current political moment, including their assessment of President Trump’s first 100 days in office.
Short version: They think he’s doing a lousy job. Trump’s approval rating among this group is an abysmal 32 percent, and 41 percent say he deserves an F for his performance thus far, according to a poll published on Tuesday by the Harvard Institute of Politics and the 33rd edition of the Public Opinion Project. The age group that Harvard surveyed fits into the millennial generation, though often “millennials” refers to people up to 35 years old.
This generation is “not like their parents,” says polling director John Della Volpe.
For starters, the Pew Research Center found that millennials — about 83 million strong — is more ethnically and racially diverse than any other in American history. Paul Taylor, author of The Next America, argues that unlike their Gen X or Baby Boomer (grand)parents, these young Americans have relationships with a much broader group of people. That’s especially true among college students.
The Harvard poll reveals some interesting connections between the kinds of people millennials know and their political leanings. For instance, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to have a close relationship with a police officer, drug addict or someone in recovery, a truck driver, veteran and a millionaire. Similarly, Democrats are more likely to be close to a Muslim person, an Ivy League graduate, or an undocumented immigrant.
Regardless of party affiliation, nearly half of this behemoth group believes politics is relevant to their lives. Yet they’re distrustful of government bodies, including the president and Congress. Chances they’ll run for elected office before they’re 50? They say 9 percent. In order to be coaxed out of their regular routine to head into a voting booth, they expect to be wooed.
Students in a recent focus group at The Ohio State University in Columbus embody a few more of Volpe’s findings:
Clinton Supporter, Not A Democrat
Like 55 percent of her peers, 20-year-old Mikayla Bodey voted for Hillary Clinton. And when asked to grade Trump, she gives him a “D.” But even now, she is disinclined to call herself a Democrat, which is pretty typical for a millennial — half identify as political independents, Pew has reported.
She said she understands the why the two leading parties can’t seem to wrap their heads around the idea that millennials aren’t swayed by identity politics.
Bodey is a senior, just months away from graduation. She has yet to line up a full-time job, so there’s a genuine sense of urgency when she adds, “We care about social issues a lot, but we also care about the fact that we’re going have jobs when we leave school. We also care about how our parents are going to retire.”
Volpe’s research over the 18 years he’s conducted the poll highlights a new kind of willingness among millennials to take a sort of “a la carte” approach to politics. Young voters are more willing than ever to ignore conventional party lines and make decisions based on their own experience.
That explains how 60 percent of voters like Bodey agree that Trump’s plans to crack down on countries that engage in illegal or unfair trade practices that hurt American workers would make America better, while 45 percent say the administration’s plans to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act would make America worse.
Looking For Personalization
Marcus Devies’ email inbox drove him crazy.
In the months leading up to the November election, Devies, another Clinton supporter, said he was subject to a daily deluge of emails from the campaign.
“They were very broad, nonspecific recruiting tools,” he said. Much to his frustration they contained “nothing suited to The Ohio State or Columbus.”
It was annoying, but not enough to deter him from voting for Clinton. Still he shares the millennial view that political outreach efforts should be honed and tailored to the specific recipient. Essentially: To win hearts and minds, you have to learn names.
This shouldn’t be too surprising when one considers this is the first digital-native generation, and it has a voracious appetite for technology to match.
But only a small number a millennials actually worked or volunteered for any of the campaigns. So when those emails arrived, asking for donations or some other form of help, Devies ignored and then deleted them.
When asked what would have made him feel more engaged, Devies replied, “Personalization definitely would have helped. … I could tell it was sent with a click of button to thousands of kids.”
This ties into Volpe’s broader analysis of attitudes toward trust in elected officials and the political system in general. More than half of this generation — 53 percent — say elected officials don’t seem to share the same priorities. They trust the president to “do the right thing” 24 percent of the time. (That’s plummeted from 41 percent of the time in 2012, under Obama.)
Pro-Trump, Anti-Fake News
Republican Zach McIntyre, a freshman from a small rural town in Ohio, is one of the millennials who turned out for and continues to back Trump.
A good chunk of McIntyre’s high school buddies entered the military after graduation. “There are no jobs,” he said by way of explanation.
Although, his friends are too young to be veterans, the anecdote dovetails with Volpe’s research on young Republicans who are far more likely than a Democrat to know someone who’s served in Iraq or Afghanistan — 43 percent versus 26 percent, respectively.
McIntyre also makes concerted effort to stay away from news on social media. While nearly half of millennials believes their Facebook feed is “fake news,” conservatives are a more inclined to hold this view.
“The constant battering of both sides is discrediting all [news outlets] in my opinion,” he said.
Drawing A Line
Kyle Whitlatch, 19, is an outlier when it comes to party loyalty.
Whitlatch, whose parents are both women, is reluctant to call himself a single-issue voter, but he admits he is “as close as you can get.”
“For me, LGBTQ rights are the end issue,” he said. “If you are even kind of questionable on that issue, there is no chance you’ll ever win a vote of mine.”
Whitlatch’s conviction on this topic and other social issue is representative of widespread millennial attitudes.
Seventy-three percent of millennials support same-sex marriage, a 2015 Pew study found, including a majority of Republican and Republican-leaning millennials.
On other social issues, according to the Harvard poll, more millennials agree than disagree that the government should do more to curb climate change, “even at the expense of economic growth”; that the government should spend more money to reduce poverty; and that recent immigration has “done more harm than good.” And there is even more support in those areas now than there was five years ago. The numbers on affirmative action remain low — only 19 percent approve of practices that give qualified minorities special preference in hiring and education, but that’s up from only 14 percent in 2012.