It's a hard-to-resist headline in the wake of a new survey from Harvard's Institute of Politics: Young people are "disillusioned" with President Obama and have "abandoned" him. But before the GOP kills any planned ad campaigns centered on Miley jokes, it's worth applying a bit of skepticism.
Politico ("disillusioned") offers the top-line data from the survey: "Fifty-four percent of those surveyed disapprove of Obama’s job performance, compared with 41 percent who approve." In 2009, the data was largely reversed, with 58 percent approving and 39 disapproving. At National Journal ("abandon"), Ron Fournier notes that 47 percent of respondents said they would recall the president. Therefore Obama — and perhaps the Democratic Party? — is doomed.
Young people would still vote for Obama again.
The pollsters asked those who'd voted in 2012 who they would support if the election were repeated today. In 2012, respondents said they'd backed Obama over Romney by 55 to 33 percent. Now? The split is 46 to 35 — still an 11-point margin.
If you're curious about the 7 percent that abandoned Obama but didn't pick Romney, they went almost entirely to a non-identified candidate named "someone else." That they don't flock to Romney isn't surprising; as The Atlantic's David Graham points out, a disillusioned Obama fan might naturally go to a third party. And when it comes to Congress, that's what seems to happen according to the IOP: favorability of Democrats among 18 to 24 year-olds has dropped, but for Republicans, it hasn't increased. For those 25 to 29, party identification has been consistent.
In 2009, young people disapproved of Obama's handling of most issues, anyway.
The survey from four years ago, in which a majority of young people approved of Obama, wasn't without skepticism.
[A] majority of 18-29 year-olds also disapprove of his handling of every major issue asked about: Afghanistan (55% disapprove, 41% approve), health care (52% disapprove, 44% approve), the economy (52% disapprove, 44% approve), Iran (53% disapprove, 42% approve), and the federal budget deficit (58% disapprove, 38% approve).
Those numbers have dropped — health care is now 34 / 61 percent approve / disapprove; the economy is 33 / 61 — but playing off of a perception that young people wholeheartedly endorsed the president seems questionable.
There are some weird things in the demographics.
The response data from the 2012 question, incidentally, doesn't clearly match up with 2012 exit polls. During the actual election, 60 percent of people between 18 and 30 backed Obama, with Romney pulling in 36 to 38 percent. Some people may misremember or may be unwilling to respond, to be sure.
But it gets weirder. The survey targeted people between the ages of 18 and 29. As The Atlantic's Garance Franke-Ruta noted on Twitter, 22 percent of those people responding to the Harvard survey said that their income was over $100,000 annually. Five percent reported making more than $175,000. As former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau pointed out, that 22 percent figure is about twice what might be expected. And in 2012, people in that economic bracket overwhelmingly supported Romney. (According to the full data set, a third of respondents also hail from the Republican-friendly South.)
Update: Franke-Ruta got an answer on the money. The IOP asked about household income, not personal, but didn't reflect that in its documentation.
The weirdest data point, though, is this. Asked the platforms on which they had an account, 79 percent said they had an account on Facebook. Twitter, 35 percent. And then the other networks:
That's right. According to the survey, the second most-common social network among people 18 to 29 is Google+ — with a bigger user base than Instagram. Which Google would argue is legit, since its self-reported user numbers include activity every time someone clicks the GMail notification button. But did you know that? Thanks to the network's tiny amount of activity, The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal once called Google+ "an abandoned city in the desert." Is it possible the 27 percent of young people indicated they have Google+ accounts because they know that one is set up for them when they get a GMail account? It is possible. Is this still very, very weird? Yes.
It seems pretty clear that there has been a shift in opinion, that younger voters views of Obama are indeed "now tracking with all adults." Franke-Ruta has an interesting analysis of this shift: "There's no heartbreak like the heartbreak of first love, and when it comes to politics, no disappointment more bitter than that of a young person who grows up to realize her one-time idol is all too human."
But it is also very common to assume that break-ups will be much worse than they actually are. Just as Twitter shouldn't be too worried about losing market share to Google+.
Update, 4:30 p.m.: The White House is also skeptical of the IOP's numbers.
Wicked accurate final #HarvardPoll of 2012 had POTUS vote share at 48% among youth sample similar to today's poll; POTUS at 60% in exits— Jordan Burke (@Jordan44) December 4, 2013