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CBS Nation Tracker poll: Young Americans believe they can change the world

By Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus, Kabir Khanna and Anthony Salvanto

A new CBS News poll conducted by YouGov shows a generation gap. Most younger Americans, ages 18-29, believe their generation can change the world -- or is already changing it.

But there are big differences in how younger and older Americans see things. Eight in 10 Americans say there is a "generation gap." A majority of older Americans -- in particular, the vast majority of older conservatives -- say they look at the young generation and feel pessimistic about the country's future.

Meanwhile Americans under 30 look at the older generation, and are more likely to say their elders will leave the country in worse shape than they found it. By almost two-to-one, Americans are more supportive than opposed to the young people taking part in marches and speaking out on guns and safety. In general, Americans of all ages say young people organizing is healthy for democracy.

People of your generation

Most young Americans, those ages 18-29, say their generation can change the world or is already changing it. At the same time, when older Americans see young people today they are pessimistic about the future of the country.

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Among Americans ages 18-29, 51 percent said their generation can change the world; 38 percent say they are changing the world; and 11 percent said they can't change the world.

Young people today make you feel

Among Americans over age 50, 40 percent say young people make them feel optimistic about the country's future, while 60 percent said young people make them feel pessimistic about the country's future.

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Is there a generation gap today?

Eight in 10 Americans -- across all age groups -- see a generation gap. That is, they see a major difference in the point of view of young people and older people.

Asked if there is a generation gap today, 81 percent of everyone polled said yes, while 19 percent said no. Of those ages 18 to 24, 89 percent said yes and 11 percent said no. Of those ages 25 to 29, 82 percent said yes and 18 percent said no. Of those ages 30 to 50, 79 percent said yes and 21 percent said no. And of those over age 50, 80 percent said yes and 20 percent said no.

To some extent, younger and older people generally agree that things were harder for older generations. Younger Americans (41 percent) are inclined to say older generations had it tougher than they do, and Americans over 50, many of whom are Baby Boomers, largely think the younger generation has it easier than they did (49 percent).

Still, each generation does have criticism for the other. More than half of older Americans (57 percent) describe young people today as too easily offended and only one in ten say they are hard working. Also, 34 percent of adults under age 30 think older generations are intolerant and fewer than one in four feel they care about young people.

How young people think Baby Boomers will leave the nation

And younger Americans aren't optimistic about the country older Americans will leave behind.

By more than two to one, young Americans say the Baby Boomer generation will leave the U.S. worse than they found it, not better.

Among Americans ages 18-29, only 19 percent say Boomers will leave American better than they found it, while 43 percent say Boomers will leave the country worse than they found it, 16 percent said it will be about the same, and 21 percent said it's too soon to tell yet. 

More Americans support the March for our Lives movement

More Americans support (47 percent) than oppose (27 percent) young people taking part in marches and speaking out on guns and safety, although younger Americans, particularly those in the post-millennial generation, are more supportive than those who are older.

Supportive of Young People Speaking Out on Guns and Safety

  • Ages 18-24 — 58 percent
  • Ages 25-29 — 46 percent
  • Ages 30-44 — 50 percent
  • Ages 45-64 — 42 percent
  • Ages 65+ — 47 percent

More broadly, Americans -- both young and old -- generally think young people organizing is healthy for democracy, although more young people agree that it's healthy. A total of 53 percent of people said young people organizing is healthy for democracy, while 19 percent said it's harmful and 28 percent said neither. Of those under age 30, 60 percent said it's healthy for democracy, 15 percent said it's harmful and 25 percent said neither. Of those over age 50, 50 percent said it's healthy, 21 said it's hurtful and 29 percent said it's neither.

Reasons young people are marching

Why are young people marching? Just over half of Americans say it's just about gun policy, while nearly as many say it's also about having more of a say in politics. Young adults under 25 are particularly likely to say it's about more than just gun policy. Overall, 53 percent of people said it's about gun policy, while 47 percent said it's about having more of a say in politics. Of those ages 18 to 24, 48 percent say it's about gun policy, and 52 percent say it's about having more say in politics. Among those 25 and older, 54 percent say it's about gun policy, while 46 percent say it's about having more of a say in politics.

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And most Americans -- across all ages and the partisan spectrum -- think mass shootings are something that can be prevented. Just a quarter say they are something we just have to accept as part of living in a free society. In total, 73 percent of people think such shootings can be prevented, while 27 percent of people say they have to accept such events. Among Republicans, 64 percent say they can be prevented and 36 percent say they have to be accepted. Among Democrats, 85 percent say they can be prevented and 15 percent say they must be accepted. And among Independents, 72 percent say they can be prevented and 28 percent say they have to be accepted.

The generations: Participation in politics and voting

In this midterm election year, younger Americans are more likely than those who are older to say they'll organize, join marches, and discuss issues online, but it's the older generation who say they are more likely to vote. Among Americans older than 50, 63 percent say they are very likely to vote in the midterm elections, compared with 32 percent of those under 30. Most people under age 30 have not previously voted in a midterm election.

  • Of those under age 30, 32 percent say they are very likely to vote in 2018, compared with 63 percent of those over age 50. 
  • Of those under age 30, 9 percent say they plan to organize groups of people in 2018, compared with 4 percent over age 50. 
  • Of those under age 30, 17 percent say they plan to join marches or demonstrations, compared with 8 percent of those over 50. 

Of those under 30, 29 percent say they plan to discuss issues online and on social media, compared with 22 percent of those over 50.

Of those under 30, 25 percent say they'll try to change the minds of people on the other side, compared with 27 percent of those over 50.

Older Americans over age 50 are more likely to say they always vote (63 percent), compared to just 25 percent of those under 30. For the youngest portion of that group, ages 18 to 24, four in 10 say they haven't always voted because they weren't old enough. But young Americans also name not having the time or saying the whole system is bad as a reason for not always voting.

Each of the generations approach affecting political change in different ways. Young people prefer to support a cause or organization, but older people say they support candidates.

To affect political outcomes, which do you prefer to support?

Of those under age 30, 47 percent said they prefer to support a cause or organization, compared with 31 percent of those over 50. Of those under age 30, 35 percent say they prefer to support candidates, compared with 49 percent of those over 50. And just 18 percent of those under 30 say they prefer to support a party, compared with 20 percent of those over 50.

Still, many differences on politics and policy are largely driven by partisanship rather than age. More than six in 10 Americans across all age groups support stricter gun laws, although fewer Republicans do regardless of age.

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Republicans across all age groups are more opposed than in favor of young people speaking out on guns, and they are more inclined to say young people organizing is more hurtful than helpful to democracy (although Republicans under 30 are divided on that). On the other hand, Democrats and independents feel it's healthy for democracy for young people to organize, and they generally support their participation on the issue of guns and safety.

  • Among Republicans, 20 percent are supportive of young people speaking out on guns and safety, 56 percent are opposed and 24 percent say it doesn't matter.
  • Among Democrats, 81 percent say they are supportive of young people speaking out on guns and safety, 7 percent are opposed and 12 percent say it doesn't matter.
  • Among independents, 43 percent say they are supportive of young people speaking out on guns and safety, 30 percent are opposed and 27 percent say it doesn't matter.



The CBS News survey is conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 2,206 U.S. residents interviewed online between March 19-21, 2018. The final sample included over-samples of 854 parents, as well as 433 adults aged 18-24, and 466 adults aged 25-29. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, and children under 18 at home based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2012 and 2016 presidential vote. Respondents were selected from YouGov's opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S residents. The margin of error is 3.2 percent.

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