Part of the case that presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has been making for pressing his campaign through the convention can be found in a poll of young voters released last week by the Harvard Institute of Politics.
That poll of over 3,000 respondents reveals two keys for candidates to win the youth vote in November.
The first key: Be a Democrat. Nearly six out of 10 respondents who voted in 2012 said they voted for President Obama, 20 points higher than those who said they considered themselves affiliated with Democrats. The executive summary points out that net support for a Democrat capturing the White House among 18-to-29-year-olds nearly doubled, from a 15 percent margin to a 28 percent margin in the last year.
President Obama’s job approval among the poll respondents was 55 percent, compared to 42 percent disapproval. Congressional Democrats earn a job approval rating of 44 percent, compared to 21 percent for Republicans. The only presidential candidate with a net favorable opinion among youth voters was Bernie Sanders, who had 54 percent favorable rating compared to 31 percent unfavorable. Every other candidate was underwater on favorability (John Kasich by 11 percentage points, Hillary Clinton by 16, Ted Cruz by 29 and Donald Trump by 57). When asked specifically which candidate they would back if the election was held today between Clinton and Trump, however, the majority of respondents overwhelmingly chose Clinton.
The second key, based on the poll responses: Support an active and engaged government. More than sixty percent of young Americans thought that the federal government should play a large to moderate role in the regulation of Wall Street (67 percent), delivery of health care (66 percent), creating academic standards for K-12 schools (64 percent), providing access to higher education (70 percent), reducing income inequality (64 percent) and regulating the economy (69 percent).
The poll also showed plurality support for government-provided health insurance (by a 27 percent margin), spending more to reduce poverty (25 percent margin), food and shelter (27 percent margin) and action on curbing climate change (17 percent margin).
The poll was not all rosy for progressives. Just 38 percent thought of themselves as a liberal, compared to 32 percent conservative, and 27 percent independent. Thirty-one percent thought of themselves as a progressive, though 44 percent said they supported “progressivism.” On a few issues, more poll respondents favored positions taken by conservatives, such as cutting taxes to increase economic growth, and by economic elites, such as elimination of trade barriers. Young voters were split on the idea of increasing government spending to stimulate economic growth, with 26 percent agreeing and the same amount disagreeing.
The Harvard poll provides a beacon candidates can use to steer their campaigns if they want to gain youth support. While youth have preferred Democrats in recent elections, it is surprising to see just how much more they would support another Democrat in the White House and the strong majorities in which they prefer the active role of government. There is a clear message in this for Hillary Clinton is she is the Democratic nominee: To stay on the path of winning the youth vote in November, keep left.