In the wake of the Paris attacks, a majority of young Americans support sending U.S. ground troops to fight ISIS, according to a wide-ranging new poll from the Harvard Institute of Politics.
The institute has asked millennials about the idea of American boots on the ground at three different times this year, and the survey results have fluctuated somewhat, but there seems to be a “hardening of support.”
In this most recent survey, 60 percent of the 18- to 29-year-olds polled say they support committing U.S. combat troops to fight ISIS. But an almost equal number (62 percent) say they wouldn’t want to personally join the fight, even if the U.S. needed additional troops.
The disconnect in joining the fight comes down to how millennials feel about the government writ large, according to Harvard IOP Polling Director John Della Volpe.
“I’m reminded of the significant degree of distrust that this generation has about all things related to government,” said Della Volpe. “And I believe if young people had a better relationship with government … they’d be more open to serving.”
Della Volpe does caution, though, that this poll doesn’t dig into the size or the scope of the military campaign that young folks would be willing to theoretically support.
“I can’t tell you that young people support 5,000 troops or 50,000 troops,” he said.
Here are four other takeaways from the poll that help us explain the political attitudes of young people this election cycle.
1. Building a wall at the border
Forty-three percent of the young Americans polled welcome the idea of building a wall along the U.S. Southern border with Mexico. But support differs sharply along partisan lines. Seventy percent of Republicans surveyed supported the wall, compared with 31 percent of Democrats.
“This is a very divisive issue,” said Della Volpe. “And you can really kind of predict who’s gonna support it based on what their race is and also what their political party is.”
A majority of white 18- to 29-year-olds polled support the wall, but only about a quarter of young Hispanics do.
“It’s clearly kind of a wedge issue — something that illustrates significant differences in the way that young Republicans and young Democrats view America,” said Della Volpe.
2. Skyrocketing support for Bernie Sanders
The Harvard IOP poll is conducted twice a year — in the fall and in the spring.
In the spring, Bernie Sanders seemed like a blip on the radar — just 1 percent of young Democratic primary voters supported him. Now, he’s edging out Hillary Clinton (41 percent to 35 percent).
“The idea of any candidate moving 40 points or so over the course of six months, frankly, is extraordinary,” said Della Volpe.
But, he says, it’s not surprising to see huge support for Sanders when you line up his campaign with some of the attributes that young people want to see in a candidate.
“For example, young people telling us they’re interested in somebody who is authentic, who has integrity — these are some of the hallmarks, I think, of the ways in which young people would describe Bernie Sanders’ campaign,” said Della Volpe.
Among young Republicans, Donald Trump has a slim lead (22 percent) over Ben Carson (20 percent).
3. No labels
Sanders is a self-described “democratic socialist,” a label that commentators and some of Sanders’ opponents have suggested could be a problem. They question Sanders’ ability to govern a capitalist economy. Sanders even delivered a speech about his vision of democratic socialism, but, as NPR’s Sam Sanders has reported, many young people don’t mind the label.
The Harvard IOP poll finds the term makes “no difference” to 66 percent of likely Democratic voters.
“Young people are fiercely independent,” said Della Volpe. “They’re not looking at a label, they’re looking at a person and his platform.”
What’s perhaps more interesting is that for some millennials, the label does carry a connotation — and not the one pundits may have thought. For some young folks, democratic socialism is a plus — 24 percent say the “democratic socialist” ID makes them “more likely” to vote for Sanders.
4. Disinterested Democrats?
Young voters lean left, so it’s no surprise that a majority (56 percent) in this poll want a Democrat to maintain control of the White House. Only 36 percent say they prefer a Republican candidate.
The Democrats have widened the gap over the past six months, when Harvard IOP last polled.
“Republicans had been making progress, but it looks like they might have taken a step back in terms of connecting their views with America’s millennial generation, ” said Della Volpe.
In particular, Democrats seem to be doing better among younger 18- to 24-year-olds. (As we previously reported, there had been some indication that these younger millennials might be more conservative than their older siblings.)
“We see fewer people today interested in supporting the Republican Party than we had six months ago,” said Della Volpe. “And the only thing that has changed between now and six months ago is that we’ve had … several Republican debates, and a lot of opportunities for Republicans — Donald Trump, Ben Carson and others — to share their views.”
But regardless of political affiliation, most millennials still say they don’t follow politics. And a majority say they’re not following the presidential race. More than three-quarters of those polled say they’re not politically engaged.
Harvard Institute of Politics GFK-Knowledge Panel was a survey of 2,011 18- to 29- year-old U.S. citizens interviewed from Oct. 30 to Nov. 9, 2015. An exception was the section on sending ground troops and serving in the military, which had a sample size of 435, and was re-asked following the November attacks in Paris. The margin of error for questions asked of the entire panel is +/- 2.8 percentage points.