News Release | A Generation in Transition: Religion, Values, and Politics among College-Age Millennials


New Survey Highlights Challenges Obama, Romney Face in Reaching College-age Millennial Voters

Millennials prioritize jobs, support measures to address economic inequality, show evidence of racial divisions

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Four years after younger voters headed to the polls in record numbers, helping to send then-Senator Barack Obama to the White House, a new national survey of more than 2,000 18-24 year old Millennials provides new insights about the challenges both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney face in reaching the newest group of young American voters.

Conducted jointly by Public Religion Research Institute and the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, the new poll finds President Obama holds a 7-point lead over a generic Republican candidate, with nearly half (48 percent) of young Millennial voters saying they would prefer that Obama win the 2012 election, compared to 41 percent who say they would like to see a Republican win. However, only 34 percent of voters who would prefer a Republican candidate say Mitt Romney is their first choice to be the GOP nominee. Another challenge for both campaigns is that the PRRI/Berkley Center poll also finds that only 61 percent of college-age Millennials are currently registered to vote, and only 46 percent say they are absolutely certain they will vote in November.

“Both the Romney and Obama campaigns have their work cut out for them to reach college-age Millennial voters,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute.  “Obama enjoys significant favorability and excitement advantages over Romney, but his support among younger voters today is substantially lower than among younger voters four years ago.  Romney’s largest challenge is that he inspires considerably less excitement than Obama or other Republican candidates.”

Among the issues Millennials believe are critically important, more than three-quarters (76 percent) cite jobs and unemployment, followed by the federal deficit (55 percent), and education (54 percent). Only 1-in-5 say social issues like abortion (22 percent) or same-sex marriage (22 percent) are critical.

“College-age Millennials are also notable for their support for economic reforms that address the gap between the rich and the poor,” said Daniel Cox, Research Director at Public Religion Research Institute. “More than 6-in-10 Millennials say that one of the biggest problems in this country is that we don’t give everyone an equal chance in life.”

Nearly 7-in-10 (69 percent) Millennials believe that the government should do more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, while 28 percent disagree. Younger Millennials also strongly favor (72 percent) a policy sometimes called the “Buffett Rule,” which would increase the tax rate on Americans earning more than $1 million a year. But Millennials also show some concerns about the role of government; two-thirds (67 percent) agree that poor people have become too dependent on government assistance programs.

“Despite the value Millennials place on tolerance, they remain divided on issues of race,” said Thomas Banchoff, director, Berkley Center, and associate professor of government at Georgetown University.

When asked whether discrimination against whites has become as big a problem today as discrimination against blacks and other minorities, younger Millennials are nearly evenly divided (48 percent agree, 47 percent disagree). A solid majority (58 percent) of white Millennials believe that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities, compared to only 24 percent of black Millennials and about 4-in-10 (39 percent) Hispanic Millennials. College-age Millennials are also divided on whether the government has paid too much attention to the problems of blacks and other minorities over the past few decades (49 percent disagree, 46 percent agree).

Read the topline questionnaire and methodology here.
The 2012 Millennial Values Survey was conducted jointly by Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs among a random sample of 2,013 adults age 18 to 24 who are part of the Knowledge Networks’ KnowledgePanel, a panel built on a representative random sample of U.S. households. Interviews were conducted online in both English and Spanish between March 7 and March 20, 2012. The margin of sampling error for the entire sample is +/- 3.3 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence. The survey was funded by a generous grant from the Ford Foundation. 

Public Religion Research Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in research at the intersection of religion, values, and public life.

The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, is dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of religion, ethics, and public life.