Democrats have lost ground with millennials compared to past election cycles — a development that suggests the country's youngest voters are open to both parties, according to a new Harvard Institute of Politics poll.
The nationwide poll of more than 2,000 adults ages 18 to 29, conducted Sept. 26 to Oct. 9, found significant political divisions across racial lines, no significant gender gap in the age group, and a slight Republican advantage among definite voters going into the 2014 midterm election.
"A lesson here, for us, is that young people, millennials, are no longer the political outliers that they once were," said John Della Volpe, the Harvard Institute of Politics polling director, on a conference call with reporters. "In contrast to where we were four years ago, the youth vote is very much up for grabs politically."
The 2014 poll shows that 51 percent of millennials considered most likely to vote would rather see a Republican Congress — 4 points higher than those who prefer Democrats. That’s a 16-point jump from 2010, when that group preferred Democrats by 12 percent.
Millennials "could be a critical swing vote in races across the country," said Maggie Williams, the Harvard IOP director. "The message is clear: Ignore millennial voters at your peril."
Della Volpe said the shift is indicative of enthusiasm levels this cycle for young Republican voters vs. Democrat voters. Those who voted for Romney in 2012 are more likely to participate this November, he said.
Still there was good news in the poll for Democrats: Overall, the party is seen as more trustworthy on a variety of issues.
Turnout for millennials is expected to be about the same as in 2010.
"The message that we have is that young people care deeply about their country," Della Volpe said, indicating that millennials are likely to volunteer in areas where they can achieve tangible results. "Unfortunately they're not as connected to politics."
The poll identified significant differences between young black voters and young white voters. Support for President Barack Obama remained high with black voters, at 78 percent approval, while young white voters disapproved of the president by nearly two-to-one. That 47 percent gap is 11 points higher than it was in the fall of 2009. Young white voters preferred Republicans in control of Congress and black and hispanic voters preferred Democrats.
On terrorism and national security issues, 61 percent of millenials polled said they are "a great deal" or "somewhat" worried about a terrorist attack. They approve of expanded strikes against ISIS by about two-to-one, 39 percent to 20 percent with 38 percent unsure.
As for how to reach these young voters "up for grabs," political parties will have to use different social media platforms for different demographics. Young white voters use Facebook, SnapChat and Pinterest. Young black voters use Instagram and Twitter more.
The Harvard Institute of Politics has been polling young voters since 2000, and has released 26 national surveys since.
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