Young People Far Less Patriotic Than They Used To Be, Poll Finds

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Young Americans are dramatically less patriotic than they were 18 years ago in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attack, a newly released poll found.

Some 63 percent of people ages 18 to 29 surveyed in the poll identified as “very patriotic” or “somewhat patriotic” – but that number was 89 percent in 2002 when the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government conducted its first Youth Poll. (Back then, the age group polled was 18 to 24.)

These days, many Democratic-leaning young people surveyed don’t even like the word.

“To dig into this finding even deeper, we fielded an open-ended question, asking which one word young Americans associated with the word ‘patriot.’ And we found that Republicans were far more likely to associate patriotism with positive attributes. Whereas many Democrats actually associate the word ‘patriot’ itself with things like racism, xenophobia, and ignorance,” said Katie Heintz, a freshman at Harvard College who worked on the Youth Poll, during an online presentation Thursday, April 23. “This signified to us that the definition of patriotism has taken on a very negative connotation for a sizable portion of young Americans. And that may be why we’re seeing this dramatic change over the last two decades.”

Republicans surveyed tended to use terms like “loyalty,” “pride,” and “responsibility” when asked for one word to associate with patriotism, according to the poll summary.

The poll found similar levels of support this year as in 2016 among young people for capitalism (45 percent) and socialism (30 percent). Some 40 percent said they support “democratic socialism,” which is similar to what the Youth Poll found in the fall of 2018.

Della Volpe said the young people surveyed and interviewed in focus groups report high levels of anxiety, driven by the coronavirus emergency but also other factors, including fear of the future.

“A good day for them is when they have enough money in their pocket to afford to go to the therapist, on a given week,” Della Volpe said. “That’s what a focus group in New Hampshire told us.”

As for the presidential race, the results look similar to what the poll found before the last presidential election in 2016.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump by 30 points – 60 to 30 percent – among those ages 18 to 29 surveyed who said they are likely to vote.

In April 2016, the same poll found Hillary Clinton leading 54 to 28 percent among the same age group, and 61 to 25 percent in July 2016.

2016 Youth Poll, Institute of Politics, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

“Things could change. Things changed in 2016. Hillary Clinton started stronger than she finished with young people,” said John Della Volpe, who conducted the recent poll and the 2016 polls. “So there’s a lot of opportunity for young people to get to know the candidates and to make sure that they are inspired and empowered.”

Like Clinton in 2016, Biden this year has high negatives – 42 percent favorable, versus 50 percent unfavorable. But he benefited among respondents in the poll because he is pitted against Trump, whose unfavorable rating is much higher.

Young people are usually among the least important demographic groups in presidential elections because they tend not to vote. But Biden supporters can take heart from two findings of the poll:  Democrats seem willing to settle for Biden, and young people seem more engaged.

Della Volpe sounded surprised, for instance, to find that Biden did about as well against Trump as Bernie Sanders did, though Sanders is more popular with young people. Opposition to Trump is so strong among Democrats that “the Bernie factor wasn’t really a factor,” Della Volpe said.

Della Volpe also said that young people seem more politically engaged this year than last time around, following a strong turnout in the 2018 mid-term election.

Organizers say the poll surveyed 2,546 people ages 18 to 29 online between March 11 and March 23. The pollster, Ipsos Public Affairs, says the margin of error is plus or minus 2.78 percentage points, with a confidence level of 95 percent.

President Trump’s approval rating nationally hovered around 42 percent in mid-March when the poll was taken, according to, but has ticked up slightly since then, ranging in April from 43.4 to 45.8 percent.