Disillusioned: Why the 'Obama generation' won't vote

Susan Saulny, Richard Coolidge and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

Power Players

Young people are more disillusioned about government and politics than at any time since 2000, a new survey from the Harvard Institute of Politics reveals.

“The message of the survey is that trust is down in almost every single institution that we've measured and cynicism is up significantly,” John Della Volpe, the director of polling at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, told “Power Players” in a recent interview.

The Institute of Politics’ newest survey of 18- to 29- year-olds found that less than a quarter of these young people plan to “definitely” vote in the 2014 midterm elections. Della Volpe attributes this sharp drop in millennial political participation – which, by contrast, was at a record high in 2008 – to a general “frustration with Washington” and the lack of change under Obama’s watch.

“It's everything, It's the tone, it's the series of issues, it's what's happening domestically as well as what's happening abroad, but the main message is that young people voted for Obama in 2008 so they could have a stake in what was happening in government,” he said. “They truly wanted to take that spirit of volunteerism into government, into public affairs and I think they're frustrated that they weren't asked to do more.”

But while ‘millennials’ may have given up politics, despite having played an instrumental role in sweeping Obama to a presidential victory in 2008, they haven’t given up on their communities.

“The good news is that people still believe in community service,” Della Volpe said. “The numbers of folks who participate in community service are generally unchanged.”

“In fact, I predict in 2014 more young people will volunteer in a significant way than vote in the midterm elections - maybe two times as many,” he added, pointing out that both political parties are suffering from the trend of youth disillusionment.

And when it comes to 2016, there’s no early favorite among the millennial voting bloc.

“Hillary has a rating of 52 percent … a gender gap of plus 10 and, as we know, it wasn't a good year for Chris Christie, a majority and plurality of young people thought that their opinion has gotten more negative over the last year rather than stay the same, which is really where most of the people thought Hillary was,” Della Volpe said.

Another major takeaway from the Institute of Politics recent survey, Della Volpe said, is that millennial generation is not a monolithic group. Take the issue of marijuana legalization, for instance.

“Essentially 44 percent of 18- to 29- year-olds support it either strongly or somewhat,” Della Volpe said of marijuana legalization. “Thirty-three percent oppose legalizing with 22 percent in the middle … 18- to 24- year olds, it's such a toss-up issue for them compared to 25- to 29- year olds who are 50 percent approved.”

For more details about the Institute of Politics polling on the nation’s youngest voters, check out this episode of “Power Players.”

ABC News’ Alexandra Dukakis, Tom Thornton, Nick Greiner and David Girard contributed to this episode.