Key takeaways from the Spring 2022 Harvard Youth Survey



“Our generation looks to those in power for a sign that they understand that we live our lives feeling constantly threatened.”

Pedestrians walk through Harvard Yard in 2020. Just over 50% of respondents said they would definitely or probably vote in the November election. Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg

It seems that America’s youth remain engaged but don’t feel that political leaders are listening. And based on polling results released by Harvard on Monday, this perceived disconnect between young people and the powers that be could have serious repercussions on Election Day.

As next fall’s midterm elections slowly approach and races heat up, Harvard University’s Institute of Politics released the results of its spring poll on Monday, providing insight into how which American youth could engage in this election.

The poll indicates that 18 to 29 year olds are on track to achieve record 2018 voter turnout in the November election. The majority (55%) prefer Democratic control, but many believe politics is not the way to bring about change – 36% believing that “political engagement rarely has tangible results”, 42% believing that their vote “makes no difference”. and 56% agree that “today’s politics can no longer meet the challenges facing our country”.

Conducted by a team of Harvard undergraduates, the Spring 2022 Harvard Youth Poll explored four main areas: domestic politics, identity, education and mental health.

These themes emerged from discussions within the Institute of Politics team and were based on the results of the fall poll, Alan Zhang, the student president of the Harvard Public Opinion Project, said at a conference in press on April 25.

This spring’s poll is the 43rd in the biannual series and surveyed 2,024 18-29 year olds.

The data was collected by Ipsos Public Affairs using the KnowledgePanel Calibration technique, the same methodology the survey has used since 2009, according to John Della Volpe, the poll’s director.

“Rather than connecting to a technology, whether it’s a landline, a telephone or a mobile phone, etc., the sample is recruited according to the address at which it reside. About half of the sample is recruited based on this methodology,” Della Volpe said at the press conference. “The other half is supplemented with additional online methods to ensure that we have a complete representation of not only the broad demographic group, but specifically across all important demographics of age, education, race, ethnicity and gender, etc.”

The results of the poll were posted online on April 25. Here is an overview of the four main themes:

Domestic policy

Turnout among the age group surveyed is expected to be high this fall, Kate Gunderen, a Connecticut junior who led the domestic policy research team, said at the press conference Monday. Despite this expected high turnout, Democrats can’t count on the blue wave that happened in 2018 – the electorate could be different this fall than it was four years ago and turnout could be influenced by lower levels of political advocacy, Gundersen said.

President Joe Biden’s approval ratings have fallen to 41% from 45% last fall among young Americans, with many disapproving of his handling of the economy, according to Gundersen.

“Among those who disapprove of the president, the top reason for disapproval was ‘efficiency,’ which is critically one of the top reasons for disapproval among Democrats, Independents and Republicans – [a] rare moment of consensus among people of this generation,” Gundersen said at Monday’s press conference. “President Biden has failed to maintain momentum with the generation that brought him to the White House.”

About 60% of Young Democrats and Young Republicans view the other party as a threat to democracy, according to polling results.

“Young Americans are largely dissatisfied with our system, our parties and our politicians,” Gundersen said. “However, our midterm numbers reflect that young Americans don’t seem to be turning away. They are a political force committed to working within our broken system as they see it. That being said, politicians and parties better take note of these numbers and work to understand and fight for the generation as we approach the halfway mark.

Gundersen said Biden was called ineffective — at 36%, “ineffectiveness” was the top reason cited for Biden’s disapproval — but that doesn’t mean young Americans disagree with his values.

“Young Democrats are more likely to say he broke campaign promises,” Gundersen said. “Young Democrats are also saying they want to know more about President Biden. So I think the problem he’s facing is one of communication and it’s about reaching out to the voters he’s captured in the Trump dispute.

Specifically, 40% of young Democrats say they want to see and hear more from Biden.


This year was the first time the poll delved into LGBTQ trends and identification, said Maia Alberts, a junior who led the identity research team.

The poll found that 21%, or more than one in five, of young Americans identify as LGBTQ and nearly half of poll respondents said they felt attacked “a lot” because of their sexual orientation.

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of young Americans say they are “very” or “somewhat” comfortable with a close friend who comes out as LGBTQ – further broken down to report that 84% of Democrats and 53% of Republicans are comfortable with a friend coming out as LGBTQ.

The poll also looked at the use of the pronouns they/them and friends in gender transition, where it found stronger partisan divisions. Overall, 61% of young Americans are comfortable with a friend who crosses gender, with 77% of Democrats, 33% of Republicans, and 64% of Independents feeling comfortable.

More than half of young Americans are comfortable using the pronouns them/them, and 46% are comfortable with transgender athletes participating in sports that align with their gender identity.

The other main topic highlighted by Alberts and the Identity Research team was racial identities.

“Three-fifths of young black Americans think people of their racial background often feel attacked in America,” Alberts said at the press conference. “That number is about the same today under the Biden administration as it was five years ago under Trump.”

Young Black Americans reported the highest percentage of feeling “a lot” attacked, but young Asian Americans (43%) and Hispanic Americans (37%) also feel attacked. Nineteen percent of young white Americans feel the same way.

“Minority groups representing sexuality, race, religion and politics don’t feel safe in America,” Alberts said. “Elected officials and others in power need to understand that we are looking not just for assurances, but for real concrete actions to make institutions more inclusive and equitable.


Regardless of party affiliation, the survey showed that young Americans believe education is a “critical foundation for America’s strength and future,” said Tommy Barone, head of research. in education and freshman. Young Americans ranked education above the military, technology and democracy as the most important factor in America’s global strength.

“While young Americans think education is critical to our future, they feel the education system is not responding to the moment,” Barone said. “Only 1/3 of young Americans are satisfied with the current state of K-12 public education, while 57% say they are satisfied with their own K-12 education.”

Nearly half of young Americans surveyed, or 46%, said they agree that parents should have more control over their children’s education.

Another factor covered by the survey was student loan debt. Across partisan and demographic lines, Barone said the survey shows young Americans “unequivocally want action” on student loan debt, with 85% supporting some form of action on student loan debt. , but only 38% in favor of a total cancellation.

“Young Americans care deeply about education and know it is essential to our future, but they are frustrated. Frustrated with the lack of parental control, frustrated with the quality of education we are giving our children, frustrated with the burden of student debt,” Barone said. “Elected officials who understand these frustrations can forge important bonds with critical young voters.”

Mental Health

Nearly three-quarters of young Americans, or 71%, believe there is a mental health crisis in the United States, according to the poll results.

“Our poll started asking questions about mental health when we and many of our generation were out of school and lockdowns were enforced across the country. Then we were alarmed by the high numbers we found,” said Nosa Lawani, a sophomore and mental health officer. “Now that lockdowns, school closures and mask mandates are gone across most of the country, we haven’t seen any change in the numbers.”

More than half (52%) of young Americans said they felt “depressed, depressed, or hopeless” for several days over a two-week period. There were no statistical differences based on age, education, race, ethnicity or place of residence, according to the Institute of Politics.

Almost a quarter, or 24%, said they had thought at least several times in the past two weeks that they would “better die” or “harm themselves”. This is down slightly from 28% last year. These thoughts are more common among Black, Asian, Female, LGBTQ, or financially “poor” respondents.

More young white Americans said they have access to support or resources to help them cope with depression or thoughts of self-harm, with 57% saying they have access to them, compared to just 40% of young black Americans saying the same thing.

“Our generation feels attacked from all sides. Young people face an ongoing mental health crisis fueled by the current state of American politics,” Zhang said. “Our generation looks to those in power for a sign that they understand that we live our lives feeling constantly threatened and that this is taking its toll on our mental health.”


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