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Harvard Poll: Young Voters Believe the US Political System Is Failing

Created: 02 December, 2021
Updated: 14 August, 2022
2 min read

A majority of young people look at the US political system and they do not see a true democratic process. A new Harvard Youth Poll found that many Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 believe the system is “in trouble” or has failed entirely.

The poll, from the Harvard University Kennedy School's Institute of Politics (IOP), found that only 7% of young adults believe the US has a “healthy democracy,” including 5% of independent and unaffiliated voters in this age group. 

Further, young people largely do not approve of the job public officials are doing in Washington. President Joe Biden’s approval rating has dropped to 46% among young voters, a 13-point drop from 2020. A majority also disapprove of the job performance of Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Congress. 

“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.”

And, young people are fighting. Over the last decade, the US has seen exponential growth in movements to reform the US political process to one that is fairer, more equitable, more transparent, more accountable, more representative, and more competitive -- and this growth has been driven by young people.

In 2018, the US saw the largest revolt against the political status quo in half a century, and American citizens did it at the ballot box by approving independent redistricting commissions, alternative voting methods like ranked choice voting and approval voting, open primaries, and anti-corruption measures.

In 2020, voters continued to build on the success of this movement from Virginia to California. Even in states where reforms failed to pass, the level of support showed clear signs of progress in the near future. Now, campaigns and reform advocacy groups are gearing up for the 2022 midterms.

The momentum behind efforts to implement pro-voter and better government measures hasn’t slowed, and polls like the 2021 Harvard Youth Poll will only strengthen the resolve of those working to give voters across the political spectrum and social demographics a system that is responsive to them and in which they can feel confident.

Our political system has long been in trouble, as it has become solely about the zero-sum contest between the Republican and Democratic Parties. The incentive put on our political leaders is not to put the interests of voters first, but their own interests and those of their party.

But, the same generation that is so concerned about the state of democracy in the US can and is doing something to change these incentives. Things may look bleak now when voters look at hyper-polarization and political stagnation in DC, but there is reason for hope.