The nation’s youth, a group that twice rallied behind President Barack Obama at the ballot box, is failing to support his signature domestic achievement and increasingly disillusioned with his presidency.
More than half of those 18 to 29 years old say they disapprove of Obamacare and half expect it will increase their health-care costs, a survey by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics shows. Four in 10 say they anticipate the quality of their coverage will get worse because of the law.
In a finding perhaps even more troubling for the White House, almost half in that age group, the so-called millennials, say they’re unlikely to enroll in insurance through a government exchange, even if eligible. That could put at risk the economics of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which needs young, healthy people to enroll in large numbers to offset the costs of caring for older, sicker Americans.
“There are very few aspects of the health-care initiative that they approve of,” John Della Volpe, the institute’s polling director, said today on a conference call. “They think quality will decrease, that prices will increase, so it’s not surprising that has taken a significant hit to the president’s approval rating.”
The survey underscores the challenge as Obama, 52, and his surrogates mount a three-week offensive to try to highlight the 2010 law’s benefits. As part of that drive, the president today hosted a White House “Youth Summit,” asking about 160 people the administration described as young leaders to encourage their peers to sign up for coverage.
“Well-funded special interest groups” are urging people not to enroll, Obama told the group. “This law is already making a difference for millions of young people,” he said, citing free preventive care and contraceptive coverage for women. “I’m going to need your help to spread the word.”
An estimated 15.7 million Americans age 19 to 29 lack insurance, according to the Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based foundation that works to expand access to health care. The White House has said it needs 2.7 million young adults to buy insurance through the government-run marketplaces that opened Oct. 1. Without this group, premiums for older Americans with costlier medical issues will rise, and the health-care program could falter.
Trey Grayson, the Harvard institute’s director, said Obama has failed to communicate the law’s benefits to young people, a group especially turned off by troubles that plagued the program’s federal signup site because they’re a generation that “lives digitally.” He said young people are also hearing more stories about how they’re needed to subsidize the costs of insurance for older Americans and not enough about the risks they face in being uninsured.
“It’s probably a rational conclusion that they’re drawing,” Grayson said.
Among the youth population, the president’s approval rating is sagging, as is the case with the general public. The survey found 41 percent approval for Obama, a number that drops to 34 percent when the younger Americans are asked to rate the job he is doing on health care. It was the lowest approval rating for Obama in the institute’s polling of his presidency.
Like their elders, the group is also gloomy about the nation’s direction, with 49 percent saying they think things are on the wrong track, compared with 14 percent who said things are generally headed in the right direction.
Obama’s falling numbers with young people can partly be explained by a still struggling U.S. economy that means fewer job prospects for young people after graduation, as well as growing levels of student debt, Grayson said.
“That takes its toll,” he said of an economy where unemployment remains at 7.3 percent. For young people between the ages of 20 to 24, the jobless rate is 12.5 percent.
Since the institute took its last youth survey seven months ago, Della Volpe said Obama’s approval rating has dropped 15 percentage points among young women, by 9 percentage points among young men and by 12 percentage points among the youngest segment of the group, those 18 to 24. A majority of those in the youngest segment would vote to recall the president, if they could, he said.
Even among young African-Americans, one of Obama’s strongest set of backers, his approval has dropped from 84 percent in the last survey to 75 percent in this one.
“This is an across-the-board problem,” Grayson said. “You are seeing cracks in his base.”
Some young voters are second-guessing their support for Obama in his 2012 re-election campaign. The survey shows 55 percent say they backed him in that contest, while 46 percent say they would support him if they could recast their ballots. At the same time, support for last year’s Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, is up by just 2 percentage points, with 33 percent of the young voters saying they supported him in the election and 35 percent saying they would do so now.
The survey of 2,089 Americans ages 18 to 29 was taken Oct. 30 through Nov. 11, and has a margin of error of 2.1 percentage points.