Young people are a powerful voting bloc, which you probably already knew because it's a point that gets repeated basically every election cycle. This messaging is both a statement of fact and, usually, a subtle bit of prodding to increase turnout. Like your mom telling you how you have so much potential, if only you'd just use it for once in your damn life.
In 2008, young people came out in record numbers to support the candidacy of then-Sen. Barack Obama. That year, 49% of people between the ages of 18 and 29 cast a ballot—up 9 percentage points from 2000—and 66% of those voters backed Obama. In 2012, youth turnout dropped to 41%, but young voters were still a significant force in key states.
Which brings me to the results of a recent Fusion poll about young Americans' emotional responses to the major candidates, and what, if anything, that might mean for voter turnout in 2016.
The Fusion survey asked Americans between the ages of 18 and 35 for their reactions to a hypothetical win by the leading Republican and Democratic candidates. The survey asked about respondents' ~feelings~ about wins by Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders. They had the following options to choose from: “like declaring a national holiday,” “like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” “like shrugging,” “like going back to bed,” and “like fleeing the country.”
Turns out that the most common feelings expressed about the major names in the 2016 election were negative ones.
The responses skewed negative for every candidate except Sanders, who elicited an equal measure of positive and negative responses—30% on both ends.
Here's how the rest of it went:
Overall, respondents had more negative feelings about Republican candidates, which lines up with the fact that young people tend to skew Democratic and progressive. Trump, as I've already pointed out, was pretty scorched-earth negative across the board. Overall, 69% of respondents had a dim view of a Trump administration, saying they'd feel like "going back to bed" or "fleeing the country" if he won. The numbers for Carson, Rubio, and Cruz weren't quite so severe, but they weren't that great, either, landing around a net negative of 37% for each.
Democrats fared better, but not that much better. Sanders had a negative response rate of 30%, while Clinton had 41% of respondents reacting negatively to the idea of her in the White House.
Which, to me, raises the question: Are we a generation of voters with shitty attitudes?
Kind of. But only because we are something of a nation of shitty attitudes when it comes to the people running our government. According to a Pew survey released late last year, only 19% of Americans said they could trust the government "always or most of the time." As Pew noted at the time, that was among the lowest levels reported in the last 50 years.
When it came to elected officials, the numbers were equally bad. Seventy-four percent of respondents to the Pew survey said that most elected officials put their own interests before the interests of the country, and 55% said that "average Americans" would do a better job of governing.
So maybe young people have a negative view of almost all the candidates because they, like much of the rest of the country, think the system itself is messed up. Or maybe the spectacle of this election has made respondents feel weary and disillusioned, even when it comes to candidates they may agree with.
So the question now is which will turn out to be the bigger motivator: emotional responses to the candidates or fear of, say, what would happen if Donald Trump really tried to round up and deport 11 million people.
Read the full analysis of the poll from Langer Research Associates. More on our methodology:
This Fusion 2016 Issues Poll was conducted by landline and cell phone interviews Jan. 6-19 among a random national sample of 1,030 adults age 18 to 35. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including the survey’s design effect.
This survey was produced for Fusion by Langer Research Associates of New York, with sampling, data collection and tabulation by SSRS/Social Science Research Solutions of Media, Pennsylvania. See methodological details here.