Midterm Vibe Check: Teen Vogue & Change Research Poll of Gen Z & Millennial Voters

For voters under the age of 35, the vibes in the country are undoubtedly off. This is according to the first Teen Vogue Midterm Vibe Check survey of 1,194 registered voters under 35, conducted by Change Research from May 6-10, 2022. The historic performance of voters under 35 helped produce the 2018 midterm wave for Democrats and made Donald Trump a one-term president, but nearly six months until the next election, most young voters are frustrated with the lack of progress and pessimistic about the future.

Voters under 35 say things are not going well with respect to virtually every issue facing their generations, from the economy and health care costs to abortion rights and climate change. What’s more, with few exceptions, they don’t trust either political party in the country to handle their concerns. 

Top of mind is a broken and corrupted economic system that they believe unfairly favors the wealthy and corporations, where the cost of basics like rent and health care are increasingly expensive, and where meeting basic benchmarks in a middle-class life seem impossible. Large majorities don’t trust either political party to combat corporate greed or the money in politics that stands in the way of real economic change. 

Overturning Roe v. Wade would be yet another way in which institutions in the country are working against the interests of young voters who are overwhelmingly supportive of abortion rights. This survey fielded four days after the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, and already young abortion rights supporters, especially young women, are galvanizing in response to this assault on reproductive freedom.

Young voters are clear about the types of policies they support and what they want to prioritize – protecting abortion rights, cutting carbon emissions, reducing healthcare costs, taxing the rich and corporations, and most critically, combatting the political corruption that stands in the way of all of these changes. Leaders and candidates should take notice of this survey and recenter their priorities to engage the next generation in the midterms and beyond.    

The outlook is bleak for young Americans 

Overwhelming majorities of young people say that things are not going well with respect to each issue area tested in this survey, with the exception of the right to vote (55% positive, 45% negative) and protecting LGBTQ rights (split 49% positive, 51% negative). They are the most negative about money in politics (5% positive) and healthcare costs (7% positive). 

Though they rate virtually every issue negatively, they prioritize abortion rights and the economy and jobs as the top issues facing their generations today (37% and 39%, respectively), followed by climate change (34%) and healthcare costs (33%). The top priority for Black 18-34-year-olds is racism & discrimination (48%), and young women are far more likely to prioritize abortion rights compared to young men  (52% and 21%, respectively).

When it comes to handling the key issues impacting their generation, only one party earns the trust of a majority of voters–the Democrats–and they are only trusted on two issues tested in this poll–protecting LGBTQ rights and abortion rights. Young people are more likely to say they trust neither party than they are to trust Democrats on salient issues like health care costs and climate change, and only 26% trust Democrats to handle the economy and jobs. Critically, an overwhelming number say they trust neither party when it comes to money in politics (76% neither) and corporate greed (71%).

Political institutions have failed young voters

Voters under 35 are alienated from political institutions and elected leaders, especially Republicans, whom they believe fail to respond to these myriad problems. Young voters are +30 net unfavorable towards the Democratic Party (29% favorable, 58% unfavorable) and +44 net unfavorable towards the Republican Party (22% favorable, 66% unfavorable). This lack of trust in the political parties is evident in the self-reported party identification in this poll. A large 44% plurality consider themselves independents, and 17% are pure independents, meaning that they don’t lean towards either party. 

The most well-liked political figures tested in this survey are the most progressive ones: Bernie Sanders (54% favorable, 34% unfavorable) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (44% favorable, 33% unfavorable). Despite driving the Biden coalition to victory in 2020, 60% are unfavorable towards Joe Biden and only 25% view him favorably. (For perspective, Trump is viewed favorably by 25% of 18-34-year-olds as well, though 68% view him unfavorably). Majorities are also unfavorable towards Leader Pelosi and Vice President Harris. 

It is worth noting that 37% of young voters have not heard of Joe Manchin, and that only 45% know him well enough to offer an opinion of him: If Democrats pin policy failures on Manchin, it may fall on deaf ears within this cohort.

The economy is fundamentally broken 

In every place possible in this survey, young voters are reporting that the economic status quo is working against them. A whopping 69% of young voters believe that the economy is fundamentally broken and in need of large structural reforms. In addition, 89% say corporations have too much power, 82% say the economic system unfairly favors the wealthy, and opinions of capitalism are +16 net unfavorable (34% favorable, 50% unfavorable). 

The top economic challenges young voters say they face are the system being rigged for the rich and corporations (35%), rent being too expensive (33%), and jobs not offering good pay and benefits (33%), followed by the high cost of healthcare (23%). 

The idea that hard work or an education creates a path to the middle class is no longer taken for granted: 74% agree that “the American Dream – if you work hard, you can get ahead – was once true, but is no longer a reality for my generation,” and 73% agree that “a college degree really isn’t worth it anymore.” Large majorities are worried about affording basic benchmarks in life, such as being able to afford to raise a family, paying bills, owning a home, or retiring: 

  • 83% agree that “my generation is so burdened by the high cost of college, student loans, rent, and medical care that it is hard to think about being financially capable of raising a family;”
  • 66% worry they won’t be able to afford a home in their lifetime, including 79% of current renters;
  • 71% disagree that they will be able to retire at a reasonable age; and,
  • 56% say they cannot comfortably afford all of the bills they have to pay every month. 

No wonder only 23% of young voters believe that they will be financially better off than their parents.

At a time when prices are rising, the majority of young voters report that they are earning the same (34%) or less (22%) today compared to March of 2020, with most of the self-reported wage growth occurring among college-educated men (59% earning more), married men (63% more), and white-collar workers (68% more).

Protecting abortion rights is more salient than ever

This survey was fielded days after the revelation that the Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade. An 86% majority of the young people surveyed said it was likely that the Supreme Court would overturn abortion rights this year (46% very likely, 40% somewhat likely). This decision would be out of touch with the nation, especially 18-34-year-olds. Only 22% of voters under the age of 35 believe that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, and 76% support the right to an abortion in all or most cases. Support for abortion rights is even stronger among young women (82%) and Hispanic and Black young people (81% and 90%, respectively). 

A 73% majority of young voters support passing a law to protect the right to abortion care in the US, and it is one of the most important policies that young people believe lawmakers can do right now. They believe that “Reproductive health care decisions should be made between women and their doctors, not politicians” (83% agree, 14% disagree), and that “Women will never have equal rights until they have the freedom to decide when to give birth” (66% agree, 29% disagree).

This ruling will shape who votes and how they vote in the midterms. A 59% majority of voters say that they are more likely to support a candidate in November who agrees with them on abortion access, and that number is even larger among women (71%) and supporters of abortion rights (65%). Nearly two-thirds of young voters also say that they are more motivated to vote in November because of the leaked opinion overturning Roe, and this greater motivation is concentrated among women (72%), those who intend to vote for Democrats in November (85% versus 38% among those voting for the generic Republican), and those who support abortion rights (74% versus 39% among those who oppose abortion). 

Protecting abortion rights is not some abstract exercise. A 63% majority of voters under the age of 35 and 74% of women under 35 say that they know someone who has had an abortion and only 17% say that they do not. The older the age cohort, the more likely it is that you know someone who has had an abortion (61% among 18-24 yr olds, 68% among 25-29 yr olds, and 74% among 30-34 yr olds).

GOP attacks on the most diverse generation of voters

Voters under 35 are the most diverse generation in American history – racially as well as in terms of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Fully 42% of registered voters under 35 are people of color and 38% of respondents to this survey identify as bisexual, gay, lesbian, and/or transgender.

The battles that conservatives are fighting in classrooms to restrict what young people can learn about gender, sexuality, and race are a reaction to these accelerating trends and are out of touch with voters under 35. Only 25% of young voters support banning books and restricting what students can learn about gender, sexuality, and race in school. Furthermore, 67% of young voters, including 78% of young voters of color, say schools spend too little time teaching about difficult topics in our nation’s history such as slavery, Jim Crow, Japanese internment, and the treatment of Native American tribes.

A progressive agenda that will appeal to young voters

Despite their distrust of the Democratic Party, young voters are overwhelmingly supportive of Democratic and progressive policy proposals.

We also asked young voters which of these policies are the most important to prioritize, and as you can see below, the policies they focus on address some of the most salient issues identified in the survey: combatting political corruption (45%), passing a law to protect the right to abortion access in the US (40%), followed by reducing carbon emissions (35%), raising taxes on the rich and corporations (32%), and a Medicare-for-all plan (32%). Each of these addresses an issue that was considered a top priority for at least one-in-four young voters and also was one of the issues that voters rated most negatively. 

On behalf of Teen Vogue, Change Research conducted a poll of 1,194 registered voters ages 18-34 nationally from May 1-6, 2022. The margin of error is +/- 3.4% for the full sample and larger among subgroups. Change Research reaches voters via targeted online ads and via text messages that point people to an online survey instrument. Our Dynamic Online Sampling establishes and continuously rebalances advertising targets across region, age, gender, race, and partisanship to dynamically deliver large samples that accurately reflect the demographics of a population. Post-stratification was done on region, gender, age, ethnicity, education, and 2020 vote.