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Survey Finds Young People Disapproving of Obama, Conflicted over Snowden

BY Miranda Neubauer | Wednesday, December 4 2013

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A majority of young people 18 to 29 disapprove of President Obama, Congress and the Affordable Health Care Act, according to the new fall survey from Harvard University's Institute of Politics, which also found mixed opinions about how young people viewed Edward Snowden and government collection of personal digital information for security purposes. While three out of four respondents said they did not consider themselves politically engaged or active, an analysis of the data found a correlation of between political engagement and a higher number of social media accounts.

The survey found that Obama had the lowest approval rating since the beginning of his presidency, with 54 percent indicating disapproval and 41 percent approval, a drop of 11 percentage points since the last survey in April 2013. The survey was conducted from October 30 to November 11, not long after the government shutdown, with a sample size of 2,089 in English and Spanish. Young people were only "slightly more likely" to view President Obama favorably than the population as a whole, according to the report's executive summary.

Obama's approval rating was highest among self-identified Democrats with 79 percent, down from 86 percent in April, and Black respondents with 75 percent, down from 84 percent in April. Overall, 33 percent of the respondents identified as Democrats, 24 percent as Republican and 41 percent as Independent. In a separate question, 33 percent said they identified as liberal, 26 percent as moderate and 37 percent as Conservative. The Tea Party did not have much support among the respondents, with only 11 percent saying they supported the movement versus 45 percent saying they did not support it and 41 percent saying they weren't sure.

The survey also found that 59 percent disapproved of Democrats in Congress and 75 percent disapproved of Republicans in Congress, and 51 percent would support recalling all members of Congress. While 47 percent said they would support recalling President Obama, 83 percent of Obama voters said they would recast their vote for him, and only four percent would vote for Mitt Romney. Of those who voted in the 2012 election, 55 percent of respondents said they voted for Obama and 33 percent for Romney.

The results indicate a split between younger and older "millennials," with those aged 18 to 24 trending less Democratic. Among the younger cohort, 31 percent identified as Democrats versus 25 percent as Republican, while among the older cohort aged 25-29, the number identifying as Democrats was 38 percent versus 22 identifying as Republicans.

A majority of nearly 60 percent of the respondents said they disapproved of the health care law, with significant portions of respondents saying they thought their care would get worse and the amount they would have to pay would increase. The survey only found minor differences when the health care law was referred to as "Obamacare" or "Affordable Care Act." Around 20 percent of the respondents said they would enroll in the health care program if they were eligible, while around 45 percent said they would probably or definitely not enroll. Among the 22 percent who said they were not currently insured, just under 30 percent said they would definitely or probably enroll. While between 35 and 40 percent of self-described Democrats overall suggested they would enroll, the same was only true for less than 10 percent of Republicans and less than 20 percent of Independents.

The survey also asked respondents how they had heard about the health care law. Around 70 percent indicated the news media, around 40 percent indicated friends and social media, under 15 percent indicated and under 10 percent indicated a non-governmental representative.

In a call with reporters, John Della Volpe, director of Polling with the IOP, attributed the disapproval of Obama and the health care law to "expectations that were incredibly high" for Obama and Members of Congress and the factors of the health care law that respondents considered negative. He also said he thought that President Obama had not been effective at communicating to young people. Trey Grayson, director of the IOP, noted the large percentage of respondents who said they were getting information from the media. "What has been the story about the health care law in the media in the last few months? One, the website is not working. This is a generation that lives digitally and is probably more impacted by the perception of what that would mean," he said. "The second is that there have been a lot of stories in the media about how we need more young people to sign up ... and so it could be that young folks are paying attention to these stories ... and maybe not paying as much attention to stories about how catastrophic it would be if you got diagnosed with cancer and you didn't have insurance ... Those stories haven't been in the press that much lately."

Della Volpe noted that the general trend line in the past couple of surveys has been a decline in trust in the federal government "and that's not the best time" to be introducing such a significant new government program. But he also said that respondents were disappointed with Obama and Congress because they are "passionate ... They're passionate about government. They're passionate about America and they want to go to work and solve the issues that are facing this generation and future generations." The researchers said the Obama administration should take advantage of the opportunity to reach out to the 40 percent of uninsured respondents who indicated they were 50/50 about enrolling in the health care program.

The survey results indicate conflicted opinions among young people about Edward Snowden. Asked whether they considered him a patriot or a traitor, 52 percent said they were unsure, while 22 percent called him a traitor or a patriot, respectively. Asked whether they would act in the same way if they found themselves in the same position, 50 percent said they were not sure, 31 percent said they would not release the information and only 15 percent said they would. "We found that 18- to 29- year old Whites (25%) are significantly more likely than Blacks (15%) to consider Snowden a patriot," the IOP report on the survey notes.

When asked what personal digital data they approved of the government collecting for national security reasons, a minority of respondents indicated approval of such policies. Approval dropped even more when the survey asked respondents whether they supported the government collecting such information "from you." While 30 percent said they approved of the collection of social network activity in general, only 19 percent said they approved it being "collected from you." Approval for the collection of web browsing activity dropped from 24 percent to 15 percent, for GPS location from 19 to 14 percent, for phone calls from 18 to 14 percent, for e-mail from 17 to 13 percent and for texts from 15 to 11 percent.

Overall, 30 percent of respondents said they would be willing to give up some personal freedom and privacy for national security reasons, while 39 percent indicated they would not be. In an analysis of the data for the Harvard Political Review, Andrew Ma noted that older millennials were more likely to support information collection than younger millennials when the source was explicitly mentioned. He also noted that about an equal amount of younger and older respondents, around 30 percent, said they had control over their personal technological privacy. In a separate analysis, Jenny Choi noted that Republicans and Independents were more likely to say they did not have control over their privacy. Meg Panetta found that those respondents who disapproved of Obama were more likely to see Snowden as a patriot, and that those who approved of the health care law were more likely to view Snowden as a traitor.

While 67 percent of those who were 18 in November 2012 said they were registered to vote and 58 percent said they voted, 75 percent overall said they did not consider themselves politically engaged or politically active. About 50 percent of the respondents said they would definitely or probably be voting in the 2014 Congressional elections.

In an analysis for the Harvard Political Review, Emily Wang said there was a correlation between the number of social media accounts respondents had and their likelihood to be politically engaged. According to the data, those with three or more social media accounts were more likely to be registered to vote and to have voted, she writes. She also points out that those with more accounts were more likely to identify with a political party than as Independents.

The survey found that nearly 80 percent of respondents had a Facebook account, 37 percent a Google+ account, 35 percent a Twitter account, 30 percent an Instagram account, 25 percent a Pinterest account, 16 percent a Snapchat account, 10 percent a Tumblr account and 5 percent a Foursquare account. The survey found a slight decline in Facebook accounts across all respondents from 83 percent in April and a slight increase in Twitter accounts. Instagram and Google+ adoption is somewhat higher among Blacks and Hispanics.

Meanwhile, the lack of reported political engagement in the survey is not stopping advocacy groups from trying to mobilize those supporting stronger digital privacy. Fight for the Future sent out an e-mail Wednesday asking its list supporters whether it should send out its "cat signal" alarm over a proposed bill supported by Senator Dianne Feinstein and others that it says would "actually give the government more power to continuously monitor our phone calls, text messages, email, and internet usage."