American Teens are Politically Engaged but Pessimistic about Country’s Direction

A new poll of 790 teens age 13-17 conducted by The AP-NORC Center using AmeriSpeak® digs into how the next generation of voters view current events and American politics, as well as their level of civic engagement both in and outside of school.

American teenagers, on the cusp of assuming their rights and responsibilities as voters and citizens, perceive a country divided and are pessimistic about America’s current situation. However, they aren’t entirely gloomy and do hold flashes of optimism for the future.

Teens have long been excluded from most research about politics and civics because they cannot yet vote. But even before they can go to the polls, teens are developing their political and civic identities. As they peer forward into their future, they evaluate the society and governance that adults have created, determining what aspects they will support and what they will resist and undo. Asking teenagers what they think about the country’s future, its politics, and society, is a window into all of our futures.

A new study from The Associated Press NORC Center for Public Affairs Research surveyed 790 teenagers age 13 to 17 as a lens into the 2018 mid-term elections and the 2020 presidential contest, when many of today’s teens will be making their first forays to the polls. The study examines teens’ broad feelings about the direction of the country, gauges their optimism for the future, and reveals the next generation’s ideas about governance and America’s role on the world stage.

The data for this report were collected in a nationally representative survey fielded between December 7-31, 2016, using the AmeriSpeak® Panel, the probability based panel of NORC at the University of Chicago. Online and telephone interviews using landlines and cell phones were conducted with 790 teens 13 to 17 years old after consent was granted by a parent or guardian.

Five Things You Should Know
About The AP-NORC Poll of American Teens on Politics and Civic Engagement:
Among American teens age 13-17…

  • Most believe they are living in a divided America, with 4 in 5 saying that Americans are greatly divided on their most important values.
  • Six in 10 say the country is currently headed in the wrong direction, but a majority also hopes that America’s best days are still ahead.
  • Civic engagement is high, with nearly 9 in 10 saying they have taken a civic action like volunteering for a cause they care about or raising money for such a cause.
  • Twenty-nine percent of teens say they would register as a Democrat, 23 percent as a Republican, and 24 percent as an independent or with another party, but 24 percent are not yet sure what party they would join if they could.
  • Less than a third say they have a favorable impression of Trump, and most were surprised by his election, though white teens view him and his election more positively than black or Hispanic teens.