Poll: Coronavirus, healthcare top issues among young Americans

Joe Biden enjoys a substantial lead over President Donald Trump among young voters headed into the November election.

Election 2020
Residents line up for voting at Trinity Lutheran Church in Evanston, Illinois during the state's primary election in March [File: Nam Y. Huh/AP Photo]

A biannual poll of young Americans by Harvard University suggests that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden commands a wide lead over incumbent Donald Trump in that demographic and that coronavirus and healthcare have replaced the economy and the environment as the most significant concerns of those 18-to 29-year-olds since the outbreak began.

Biden enjoys a substantial lead over Trump among the poll’s respondents, leading by 23 points among all young Americans and by 30 points among likely voters. The lead is comparable to what Senator Bernie Sanders would have enjoyed at the top of the Democratic ticket had he not dropped out of the race and won the nomination.

The poll, released on Thursday, found that a majority (66 percent) of young voters in the United States disapprove of the way Trump is managing the country and nearly a third believe they are personally worse off because of the president’s policies. About a third, or 32 percent, said they approve of the way Trump is doing his job, a level that is more or less unchanged from the early days of his administration in 2017.

“Well before COVID-19 struck, we knew this to be a generation anxious about their future. The pandemic brought these anxieties into focus,” John Della Volpe, Director of Polling for the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School, said about the poll in a statement. “In the survey, we found that stress related to debt, the cost of housing, access to health care, mental health resources, and concern about whether or not loved ones will survive coronavirus are the prism from which young Americans will view and engage in this campaign. Self-defence, in 2020, is one of the primary motivations for voting.”

The poll, the 39th in a series, was conducted between March 11 and March 23 and surveyed 2,546 Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 in both English and Spanish. About a quarter of them said they were university students; just over half (54 percent) said they were not enrolled in school at all. Nearly two-thirds said they were registered to vote.

The researchers carved out five distinct ideological segments among respondents that differ from traditional labels and are, the report’s authors said, “useful in understanding the nuanced views that young millennials and Generation Z hold toward politics today”.

So-called “engaged progressives” – the most educated and least religious – made up 15 percent of the group, and 28 percent are described as “centre-left” and, like progressives, tend to favour strong government action on healthcare and climate issues.

“Multicultural moderates,” with the highest concentration of black and Latinos, accounted for 15 percent of the sample, and were among the most religious and tended to support such traditionally Republican platforms such as school choice, free trade and cutting taxes to stimulate the economy.

The smallest of the five segments (11 percent), the “MAGA (Make America Great Again) Gen”, is mostly white, just over half (56 percent) male, and the most supportive of Trump, with 81 percent approving of the president.

The last and largest group, making up 31 percent of respondents, are described as “disengaged” and are evenly split between Democrats and Republicans but are more likely to describe themselves as moderate or conservative and are the least likely to vote in November or follow politics very closely.

Bernie Sanders supporters
Young supporters listening to Bernie Sanders during a campaign rally in Dearborn, Michigan. [File: Paul Sancya/AP Photo]

Among the survey’s other findings:

Young Americans generally hold the same views towards capitalism, socialism and democratic socialism as they did in 2016, with 45 percent supporting capitalism, 40 percent democratic socialism, and 30 percent socialism.

The Trump presidency appears to have fired up young Americans on the left of the political spectrum more than those on the right, with 43 percent of young Democrats saying that they are more politically active as a result of Trump compared with 35 percent of Republicans.

Millennials and Gen Z Americans are divided along racial lines in terms of their trust in US institutions such as the president, the military, local governments and police. Overall, white Americans are more likely than black Americans to trust those institutions.

Economic insecurities about student loans and other debt, as well as housing affordability, weigh heavily on the minds of young Americans. Nearly two-thirds of 18 to 29-year-olds are in debt and 63 percent describe themselves as worried about the affordability of housing.

Less than 10 percent of respondents believe the country is working as it should, with 39 percent saying they preferred to replace the current system and create a new model and 51 percent saying they would prefer to reform existing institutions.

Source: Al Jazeera