The high hopes that many young Americans placed in Barack Obama now appear to be crashing down.
In the past six months, President Obama’s approval rating has dipped 11 points to 41 percent among 18- to 29-year-olds, the generation known as Millennials, according to a poll released Wednesday by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.
Along with older generations, Millennials are growing increasingly disenchanted with the way Washington is operating: Only 1 in 5 of more than 2,000 Millennials polled said they approve of the direction the country is headed, down from 1 in 4 young people surveyed in April.
But the most notable shifts in opinion focus on Mr. Obama. In perhaps the survey's most surprising finding, a near majority of Millennials – 47 percent – would support recalling the president if it were possible (it's not). Some 52 percent would recall all members of Congress.
"A critical factor in the election and reelection of Barack Obama, America's 18- to 29-year-olds now rate the president's job performance closer to that of Congress – and at the lowest level since he took office in 2009," said Trey Grayson, director of the Harvard Institute of Politics, in a press release.
Though confidence in Obama went up during the 2012 elections, when respondents could compare him with Mitt Romney, now that the comparison is gone, noted Mr. Grayson during a conference call about the survey.
The overall disillusionment with Washington is perpetuated by a feeling among Millennials that the government is losing touch with them, the survey concludes. While young Americans are not rejecting politics per se, they are fed up with the current system, said John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Institute of Politics, on the conference call. Because there was so much support for Obama from young voters, there were higher expectations – perhaps, too high, Mr. Volpe said.
“Young Americans hold the president, Congress, and the federal government in less esteem almost by the day, and the levels of engagement they are having in politics are also on the decline,” he added.
The Harvard survey also shows that younger Millennials, age 18 to 24, are trending less Democratic.
While older Millennials who feel responsible for electing Obama have stuck with him, the allegiance of younger Millennials, who are now entering the job market, has started to waver, says Eva Guidarini, a Harvard junior and the student Harvard Public Opinion Project chair, during the conference call.
Thirty-one percent of younger Millennials self-reported as Democrats, down from 36 percent in April 2013. In contrast, 38 percent of older Millennials, age 25 to 29 consider themselves to be Democrats, a 1 percentage point decrease from the last survey.
The increasing disenchantment with the government can be seen in Millennial views on other top issues:
Health care. The Affordable Care Act has received a cool reception from Millennials, the majority of whom believe costs will rise and quality will fall. A solid majority of Millennials disapprove of the health-reform law, whether it is called the “Affordable Care Act," or as “Obamacare.”
Among the 18- to 29-year-olds currently without health insurance, less than one-third said they would be likely to enroll in the law's health-insurance exchanges when they become eligible. Thirteen percent reported they will definitely enroll, 16 percent said they will probably enroll, and 41 percent said they are split 50-50.
Government surveillance. More than half of Millennials are unsure about whether or not National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden is a "patriot" or "traitor." Some 22 percent described Mr. Snowden as a "patriot," and 22 percent said he was a "traitor," while 52 percent said they were unsure. But 31 percent said, had they been in Snowden’s place, they would not have released the documents, while 15 percent said they would have, and 50 percent were unsure.
When asked about government surveillance, 24 percent approved of the government recording web browsing history in general; 15 percent approved of the government collecting information from them personally.
Student debt. Opinions on student debt transcend party affiliation, according to the survey. Fifty-four percent of those enrolled in a four-year college said they or someone in their household currently has student loan debt. Regardless of whether or not they had debt, 57 percent of Millennials said they believe student debt is a “major problem” for young people in the United States – 62 percent of Democrats, 57 percent of Republicans, and 55 percent of independents. Seventy percent reported that financial circumstances played an important role in their decision whether or not to pursue a college education.