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Millennials Deeply Uncertain about Democracy Post-Election, But Few Believe it is in Peril

Our post-election poll finds that young have varying views on the health of the American system of government.

Data from CIRCLE’s post-election poll, conducted before President Trump’s inauguration, suggest some Millennials are deeply concerned about the state of American democracy and, especially, about the values of the American people. Not surprisingly, Millennials who voted for President Trump and those who voted for Secretary Clinton hold divergent views about the future of American democracy. This new data in many ways reflect our pre-election findings, when we described divides among youth, including between young Clinton and Trump voters.

CIRCLE developed this survey and the polling firm GfK collected the data from their nationally representative panel of respondents between December 6 and 15, 2016. The study is a follow-up to a survey conducted in September and October 2016, and it recontacted respondents who completed that survey. In the second contact, we surveyed a total of 1,101 people aged 18 to 34 in the U.S., with representative over-samples of Black and Latino youth and youth in battleground states. The national sample has 989 Millennials. Unless mentioned otherwise, data below are for all Millennials in the national sample.

Millennials Unsure about U.S. Democracy

Our poll asked three questions that gauge how young people feel about democracy in the United States: one about their level of “confidence” in American democracy, another question about losing “faith” in American democracy, and one about whether the U.S. will still have a democracy after the next four years.

Reflecting on the result of the 2016 election, it is clear that a sizable minority of Millennials (about one-third) are having serious doubts about the health of American democracy, which we asked about in two ways, while another sizable group are simply unsure. This adds up to over half of Millennials who are either unsure or concerned about American democracy: specifically, 35% of Millennials say they are losing faith in American democracy, and 27% say they are not losing faith in it. Asked in another way, 31% disagree or strongly disagree that they feel confident about American democracy but 25% say they are confident about American democracy.

Mirroring differences in vote choice, Millennial men were more likely to say they are confident in the future of U.S. democracy (31% agree or strongly agree) than Millennial women (19%). Just 1 in 10 Black Millennials report feeling confident. Almost half of Black millennials and over 40% of Hispanic millennials report losing faith in American democracy after the election. Even among young people who voted for President Trump, 15% say they are losing faith in American democracy.

4 in 10 Millennials Believe U.S. Democracy Can Survive the Next Four Years

Over 40% of Millennials believe in that U.S. democracy will survive the next four years. While only 15% of all Millennials think the U.S. will no longer have a democracy after the next four years (including  24% of Millennial Clinton voters), over 40% are unsure.

Around one in four of all Black and Hispanic Millennials also worry about U.S. democracy surviving, and about half of each group is on the fence. Young people who voted for President Trump are more than twice as likely than young Clinton voters to say that democracy will “survive” the next four years (66% vs. 31%), but large percentages of each group are unsure.

These varied perceptions of the state of U.S. democracy are also having differential effects on Millennials’ likelihood to pay attention to current events and become politically involved. Having very serious concerns about the survival of American democracy also seems to be motivating Millennials to pay attention to news and current events, and by a small margin, possibly to become politically involved. But simply lacking confidence in democracy (as opposed to concern about its survival) does not correlate with increased motivation and interest in the same way; in fact, those who are feeling confident in U.S. democracy are slightly more likely to be motivated and interested in engagement than those not feeling confident.

As a result, it seems that those feeling either confidence or serious concern are more motivated for engagement. On both of these questions (i.e. feeling confidence in democracy, and believing it will survive), over half of those who are unsure about how they feel about democracy also say they are unsure about their interest in future political engagement.

Many Youth Questioning the Values of the American People

There was much less uncertainty in Millennials’ views of fellow Americans: they’re concerned about their values. Over half of all Millennials (59%), as well as over half of both Trump (51%) and Clinton voters (74%) report being concerned about the values of the American people. While over 50% of Millennials, regardless of ideology, share this concern, moderate Millennials are more likely to report that they are unsure about how they feel about the values of their fellow Americans. This concern was more consistent across race, ethnicity, and gender.