The Trump Effect on Young Voters

If the results of a new national survey of millennial voters are any indication, the candidacy of Donald Trump could wreak long-lasting, generational damage to the GOP.

A poll by the Harvard University’s Institute of Politics finds that just 17% of young Americans ages 18 to 29 have a favorable impression of Trump, and that likely voters would chose Hillary Clinton over Trump by a three-to-one margin, 61% to 25%. Moreover, 49% of Trump voters say they are “not enthusiastic” about their choice.

The poll also found that on a number of other measures, young voters are souring on the GOP, suggesting a spillover effect from their negative attitudes toward Trump. Over the last year, millennials’ preferences for Democratic control of the White House has increased by 13-points, and 61% of young voters now say they’d prefer a Democrat in the White House, versus just 33% who say they’d rather have a Republican. Democrats in Congress also have a double-digit advantage on approval ratings (though it’s still not great). While 44% of young voters approve of Democrats in Congress – the highest rating in five years – just 21% say the same for Republicans. President Obama, meanwhile, enjoys an approval rating of 55% – also his highest in five years.

Regardless of who wins in November, however, the new president will be facing a young electorate that is pessimistic and mistrustful – the “hope and change” felt by young voters in 2008 has morphed into cynicism and anger. Just 15% of young Americans think America is headed in “the right direction,” and 48% agree that “Politics today are no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing.”

And despite their approval of Obama, only 40% trust the president “to do the right thing” all or most of the time, while 18% say the same of Congress and 39% say they trust the Supreme Court. Moreover, while polls of all Americans tend to find high levels of support for state and local governments, just 28% of younger voters say they trust their state governments to do the right thing all or most of the time.

These levels of distrust are also potentially translating into low levels of civic engagement and high levels of political disengagement. According to the Harvard survey, just 32% say they’ve volunteered for community service in the last year, and only 7% have ever volunteered on a political campaign for a candidate or an issue. Fewer than 1 in 3 – 32% – agree that “running for office is an honorable thing to do,”and only 27% say that “the idea of working in some form of public service is appealing to me,” including only 7% who “strongly” agree.

While progressives can take some comfort in the structural advantages they seem to be enjoying among young voters, these figures should also be cause for alarm. While millennials might be turning their backs on Donald Trump, they are also threatening to turn their backs on both government and the institutions crucial to progressive change.