If Democrats can turn out millennial voters for the presidential race in 2016, their downballot candidates may just get the boost they’re looking for from the 18- to 29-year-old crowd.
A Harvard Institute of Politics poll released Wednesday found a significant majority of millennial voters most likely to vote — 55 percent — wanted Democrats to hold onto the White House in 2016. Forty percent would prefer a Republican commander in chief. The poll, which was conducted online from March 18 to April 1, surveyed more than 3,000 adults nationwide ages 18 to 29.
While this poll did not ask about control of Congress, the 15-point margin for a Democratic White House was a shift from the partisan narrative told by Harvard’s October 2014 millennial poll, which gave Republicans a slight edge going into the midterm elections.
President Barack Obama’s approval rating among millennials increased to 50 percent — up 7 points since the fall of 2014, perhaps in part because a higher percentage now approves of the way the president is handling the economy.
Millennials continued to have the lowest levels of trust — 17 percent — in Congress, compared to other parts of government, although their confidence in the institution has increased 3 points since last year. Congressional Republicans, though, still suffered from a 23 percent approval rating among this crowd, while congressional Democrats have enjoyed a 5-point boost since October and were at 40 percent.
In a hypothetical primary matchup, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton lead the Democratic field with 47 percent support, followed in far-off second place by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Democrats are already banking on Clinton boosting their House and Senate candidates, women specifically. In an appeal to youth voters, the House Democratic Caucus sent some of its youngest members on the road earlier this month in its so-called "Future Forum."
Ben Carson lead the Republicans in a hypothetical matchup, but given the 2- to 3-point margin of error, the GOP field was really a statistical dead heat, Polling Director John Della Volpe said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday.
The survey also tested millennials’ stance on a number of public opinion issues that could influence their downballot voting.
The Affordable Care Act was a political football in the past two elections and undoubtedly will be again in 2016. Among millennials, 45 percent agreed “basic health insurance is a right for all people,” an increase of 3 points from 2014.
On fiscal issues, more millennials continued to disagree when asked if government spending is “an effective way to increase economic growth.”
When it comes to foreign policy, 57 percent of millennials believed the U.S. should use ground troops to confront the Islamic State group, and there had been a 7-point increase in support for the so-called Bush Doctrine, which the poll defined as the need to sometimes "attack potentially hostile countries, rather than waiting until we are attacked to respond."
Millennials’ opinions of the justice system were evenly split, with half saying it was unable to judge people without racial or ethnic bias. Confidence was lowest among African Americans and people with less than $50,000 in household wealth. An overwhelming 80 percent of millennials said they thought requiring police to wear body cameras would reduce "racial inequalities in the criminal justice system."
Of interest to candidates in all races should be the survey’s findings about millennials' digital engagement. Overall, millennials are much more likely to sign an online petition or "like" a candidate on Facebook than advocate by email or Twitter. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to be on Twitter, and twice as likely to be on Tumblr. Republicans are more likely to be on Pinterest.
Related: Democrats Lose Youth Vote: Millennials Turning to the GOP Courting the Cucumber-Infused Crowd: Democrats Woo Millennials The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.