Poll: After Paris attacks, millennials want ground troops to fight ISIS

Last Updated Dec 10, 2015 10:51 AM EST

The terror attacks in Paris last month appear to have sparked a groundswell of support for ground troops to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) among Americans age 18 to 29, according to a new poll from the Harvard Institute of Politics.

The poll found that support for a more involved U.S. military campaign to fight the jihadist group had dropped by nine percentage points in the past eight months and millennials - the name used to refer to that age group - were evenly split on the question of sending ground troops in the early fall. Forty eight percent supported it and 48 percent opposed.

But after the attacks, the percentage of millennials supporting the use of ground troops rose to 60 percent, with just 40 percent opposing.

The kicker: Young Americans aren't so eager for a ground campaign that they want to carry out the fight themselves. Just 16 percent of poll respondents said they already had served in the military, or would definitely or strongly consider joining.

This age group also has some unique political preferences from older generations. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, polls ahead of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton among likely Democratic primary voters, netting 41 percent support to her 35 percent. It's a meteoric rise for Sanders, who got just 1 percent support in Harvard's spring poll. Two-thirds of the respondents in this group say it makes no difference to them that Sanders self-identifies as a Democratic socialist, and nearly a quarter (24 percent) said it makes them more likely to support him.

Twenty-two percent of likely Democratic voters are still undecided, and less than 1 percent support former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The likely Republican voters are more representative of all ages. Businessman Donald Trump leads with 22 percent support. Former neurosurgeon Ben Carson still gets 20 percent support among the group, although polling was conducted between October 30 and November 9, just before Carson's poll numbers began to sink.

Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, who have been on the rise in recent weeks, both netted 7 percent support, with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush get 6 percent support. Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum got 2 percent support each, Ohio Gov. John Kasich got 2 percent, and everyone else in the GOP field got 1 percent or less.

Regardless of which candidate they would prefer, 43 percent of likely Republican voters said Carson is qualified to be president (17 percent say he is not qualified), and 38 percent said Trump is qualified (39 percent said he is not).

As a group, millennial voters still lean slightly Democratic with 56 percent saying they would prefer to see a Democrat elected in 2016. A little more than a third, 36 percent, say they want to see a Republican.

"Young people look more like the rest of Americans which means that in the last four or five years we've seen them become more polarized," said John Della Volpe the polling director at theHarvard Institute of Politics. "Democrats are moving further to the left, Republicans are moving further to the right."

Other major findings include:

  • People are split on whether they still believe in the "American Dream." Forty-nine percent said it was alive; 48 percent said it was dead. However respondents with more education are more likely to say the American dream is still alive: 58 percent of college graduates said so versus just 42 percent of those who are not in college or have never enrolled. The belief that the American dream is dead runs particularly strong among Trump and Sanders supporters: 61 percent of likely Trump voters say it is dead, and 56 percent of likely Sanders voters.
  • The trait most valued in a presidential candidate is integrity, not political experience. Fifty-one percent of respondents said integrity is the most important characteristic, followed by 33 percent who chose level-headedness and 26 percent that said authenticity. Just 18 percent said political experience matters most, and 11 percent said business experience is the most important.
  • Immigration tends to break down among party lines for millennials just as it does for adults: Seven in 10 millennial Republican voters support building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, versus just 31 percent of millennial Democrats. That breaks down to less than half of young voters (43 percent) who want a wall built at the border, and 43 percent who don't.
  • Engagement is still low: Just two in 10 people said they were "political engaged and active." In the fall of 2012, ahead of the last election, 25 percent called themselves politically engaged. A majority (52 percent) said they were not following the 2016 presidential campaign at all; 46 percent said they are following it "very" or "somewhat" closely.

The poll surveyed 2,011 18- to 29-year-old U.S. citizens between October 30 and November 9, 2015. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points. It was conducted online with the Government and Academic Research team of GfK.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.