Sunrise Movement rally

Young climate activists march rally outside the White House in Washington, D.C. on Monday, June 28, 2021.

(Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Facing Widespread Precarity, Young US Voters Are Becoming Even More Progressive

"This generation has never felt secure—personally, physically, financially," said one pollster.

A pollster at Harvard University pointed to a persistent sense of precarity in the lives of young voters as a key reason behind new data that shows Americans aged 18-29 have significantly more progressive views than young people did even five years ago.

Data analyzed by the Harvard Youth Poll, which releases survey results focused on young voters every spring, found that a clear majority take a progressive outlook on what John Della Volpe, director of the poll, called the "big four" political issues that respondents are asked about: LGBTQ+ rights, economic inequality, climate action, and gun violence.

Sixty-two percent of voters between 18-29 (those born between 1994 and 2005) believe the federal government should provide residents with basic necessities. Just 52% believed the same in 2018, and only 44% did a decade ago.

Fifty-four percent say they reject the idea that same-sex relationships and marriage equality are morally wrong, and 63% support stronger restrictions on access to guns—having come of age in an era that saw gun violence overtake vehicle accidents as the leading killer of children in the U.S. and witnessed carnage in Newtown, Connecticut; Uvalde, Texas; Las Vegas; Parkland, Florida; and dozens of other places in recent years.

Half of respondents said they want the government to do more to address the climate crisis; while not a majority, that number represents a 21-point increase since 2013. Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent, who commissioned the data analysis by the Harvard Youth Poll, noted that 57% of young voters told the poll-takers in 2020 that the government should take stronger climate action "even at the expense of economic growth," and said the dip in recent years could "reflect preoccupation with economic doldrums unleashed by Covid-19."

"This generation has never felt secure—personally, physically, financially," Della Volpe told Sargent, who wrote that the "big four" issues "all speak to the sense of precarity that young voters feel about their physical safety, their economic future, their basic rights, and even the ecological stability of the planet."

With Republican leaders attacking LGBTQ+ rights across the country; continuing to deny that humans' extraction of fossil fuels is driving the climate crisis which scientists say has caused the extreme heat experienced by more than a third of Americans this summer, pushing to further cut taxes for the wealthy while blocking legislation to help working families, and refusing to support gun control legislation backed by clear majorities of Americans, Sargent wrote that young voters present "a serious long-term problem for the GOP."

The data from 2016 to the present "suggests that [former Republican President Donald] Trump's rise to the presidency might have accelerated their progressive evolution," wrote Sargent, as young voters' support for climate action and government provision of basic necessities rose sharply after Trump took office. "The former president continues looming over our politics and will likely be the GOP nominee."

"They're growing up in a 21st century America that's far more diverse, inclusive, and globally connected than the 1950s and 1960s America of the GOP base," demographer William Frey told the Post of the poll's respondents. "They're going to shun the Republican Party as they get older."

Some progressives, however, have raised alarm about Democratic President Joe Biden's approval rating among voters under age 35—which stands at just 51%, with only 9% of those voters saying they "strongly approve" of the president and more than a quarter saying they "strongly disapprove."

"We cannot just run on what we're against. We have to run on what we're for," Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones (D-52), who was reinstated to his seat after being expelled by Republican leaders earlier this year for participating in a gun control protest, toldNBC News earlier this month. "I've been hopeful to see the Biden campaign doing this. Running for an economy where young people are not saddled with hundreds of thousands in debt; running for a livable planet... Protect kids, not guns."

For Democrats to retain the support of the young people who helped vote Biden into office in 2020, Jones told NBC, "We must do things out of the ordinary."

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