American democracy is in trouble.
That’s the assessment of most Gen Zers and Millennials responding to a national poll released Wednesday by the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School.
In fact, 35% of all respondents said they’ll likely see a second Civil War during their lifetime.
Over 52% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 are disenchanted with the country right now, saying democracy is either “in trouble” or has “failed,” the poll found. Only 7% view the United States as a healthy democracy.
The twice-a-year Harvard Youth Poll is considered one of the most comprehensive looks at young people’s concerns. For this fall’s poll, Harvard’s Institute of Politics surveyed 2,109 young people between October 26 and November 8.
Some young voters locally also expressed doubt in American democracy.
“I’m not confident about democracy right now,” 23-year-old Rex resident Ramielle Wllliams recently told Atlanta Civic Circle.
Democracy “is flawed with all of the voter suppression efforts,” Williams, an employee at Dell Technologies, added. “I feel like local and national political leaders who are in power are trying to silence our voices.”
Local political analysts recently told Atlanta Civic Circle that many millennials and Gen Zers are inundated with mixed messages on social media, making it tough to determine what and who to believe.
While young Democrats responding to the Harvard poll are evenly divided on the health of American democracy, seven in 10 of their Republican peers believe democracy is either troubled or has failed.
“After turning out in record numbers in 2020, young Americans are sounding the alarm. When they look at the America they will soon inherit, they see a democracy and climate in peril–and Washington as more interested in confrontation than compromise,” said IOP polling director John Della Volpe.
“Despite this they seem as determined as ever to fight for the change they seek,” he added.
While only a small percentage of respondents consider the United States a healthy democracy, the majority said American democracy still matters.
Nearly six in 10 young people polled called democracy “very important.” Only 7% said it either wasn’t very important or not important at all. College graduates were more likely to think democracy matters, with 70% agreeing that democracy is very important. Of those currently not in college or without a degree, only 51% felt the same way.
Young voters turned out in record numbers for the 2020 presidential election, helping put President Joe Biden in the Oval Office. Last year, fully half of those ages 18 to 29 voted–including 51% of young Georgians–an 11-point increase in national turnout compared with the 2016 election, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).
That was one of the highest participation rates among young people since the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1971, CIRCLE noted.
While most young Biden voters are satisfied with their decision, a majority of the poll’s Gen Z and Millennial respondents disapprove of the way the president and Congress are running the country.
Biden’s job approval dropped 13 percentage points to 46% from the IOP’s Spring 2021 poll. That included a 10-point drop for young Democrats and a 14-point drop for Independents.
More than four in 10 of those surveyed said strengthening the economy, uniting the country and improving healthcare are key to a successful presidency.
The Harvard poll also asked young people about their mental health, COVID-19, climate change and foreign policy. More than half of young Americans reported that they’ve felt down, depressed and hopeless, the poll said. One in four have had thoughts of self harm at least several times recently.
Additionally, 34% said they’re more worried about the country’s future than their parents.
The Harvard Public Opinion Project has provided a comprehensive look at young people’s political opinions, voting trends and views on public service for more than 20 years. Read more about Harvard’s poll here.
What do local young people think about democracy and politics? Check out this ACC story.
Note to readers: ACC is launching a Democracy book club this month. Our first book “Unrig: How to Fix Our Broken Democracy” by Daniel G. Newman addresses how to get rid of dark money in politics and other possible solutions. Register for the virtual book club here.