Presidential approval ratings wane as millennials grow wary of ACA

A new poll of Americans aged 18-29 revealed a "solid majority" of young people disapprove of the Affordable Care Act. Of those without health care coverage, only 29 percent said they were likely to enroll in the insurance exchanges. Judy Woodruff talks to John Della Volpe of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University.


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JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: President Obama made an appeal to young people today to enroll in health insurance exchanges to help the Affordable Care Act succeed. He urged them to think of the consequences of not being covered.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Sometimes, in this debate, what we have heard are people saying, well, I don't need this. I don't want this. You know, what's -- why are you impinging on my freedom to do whatever I want?

And part of what I say to folks when they tell me that is, if you get sick and you get sent to the hospital and you don't have any coverage, then somebody else is also going to be paying for it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president made that pitch as a new survey from Harvard University reveals that, as of a month ago, the 18-to-29-year-old generation was skeptical of the Affordable Care Act. Fewer than 40 percent said they approved of the law. More than 56 percent disapproved.

The poll also found Mr. Obama to be at his lowest approval rating since taking office.

John Della Volpe is director of polling at the Institute of Politics at Harvard, and he is here to discuss the findings.

John, welcome back to the program.

So, you found these numbers there polling of just about a month ago. Tell us what the numbers were when it came to the Affordable Care Act.

JOHN DELLA VOLPE, Institute of Politics at Harvard University: So, overall, Judy, we found that by a margin of about 2-1, young people believe that the quality of care will actually get worse under the Affordable Care Act.

By a margin of 5-1, they believe that their costs will increase. And as you said a moment ago, a solid majority disapprove of the act as of today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what did you find -- so, pretty significantly overwhelming disapproval. What did you find along partisan lines, Democrats, Republicans, independents?

JOHN DELLA VOLPE: It's a great question.

Essentially, 95 out of 100 Republicans disapprove of the Obamacare or Affordable Care Act. We actually asked half of our poll, 1,000 people, about questions related to the Affordable Care Act and the other half about Obamacare. Essentially, the numbers are about the same. And Democrats were significantly more likely to support it, of course.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Any greater sense, John, of why people, why these young people feel so strongly?

JOHN DELLA VOLPE: Yes, there's a -- we're not actually too surprised by this.

For the last several cycles that we have polled, we have seen the overall level of trust between young people and the powers within Washington, D.C., whether it's the administration, Republicans, Democrats in Congress, actually kind of lose trust every single day.

So, number one, not surprising that a significant program coming out of Washington, D.C., would have a hard time getting traction among millennials. Also, when you take a step back, when you think about the messages that millennials have been hearing, it has been less about them, the benefits to them. It is more about it is necessary for them to join in order to compensate for older, sicker Americans.

So I don't think the narrative has been particularly terrific when it comes to connecting with millennials about the benefits that they would have enjoying one of these exchanges.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, just to button this up, what percentage said they would enroll in an exchange among those who are not insured?

JOHN DELLA VOLPE: Well, among the 22 percent of millennials who are not insured today, less than a third, about 29 percent, say they will definitely or probably enroll.

You have about 41 percent or so who are in the middle, on the fence. I think open to listen to the president over the next couple of weeks. And then you have, of course, the remainder who said they won't enroll under any circumstances.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what about support for the president overall? We were saying a minute ago it's -- that too has dropped. What did you find there?

JOHN DELLA VOLPE: Well, remember, millennials were the outliers, and one of two significant groups that helped elect the president and then reelect him in 2012.

And up until the last year or so, they have been outliers. But over the course of our last two surveys, they have actually fallen quite neatly with the rest of America, looking a lot like their older brothers and sisters. We have seen that -- frankly, that the president's approval rating has decreased by about 11 points across board over the last year, significantly, 15 points among women, nine points among men.

And even among college students, his rate of approval is under 50 percent.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what do they say about the Congress, which we know has also seen its approval ratings drop?

JOHN DELLA VOLPE: Unfortunately, those numbers are bad and getting worse.

Democrats in Congress continue to fall and Republicans in Congress, only 19 percent of all -- of young Americans underneath -- under the age of 230 believe they're doing a good job or approve of the job that they're doing in Washington, D.C. So, as bad of a day this might be for the president and those who care about the Affordable Care Act, it's not any better for Republicans in Congress.

JUDY WOODRUFF: John, finally, I want to ask you about something I found fascinating in this poll, and that is young people's view of their student loan debt burden.

It is striking to me, because it didn't seem to always be affected by what political party they say they belong to.

JOHN DELLA VOLPE: Well, that's the thing.

If the president and members of Congress want to reconnect with young people, this is the issue to do that, to build some of that support. Economic issues specifically, issues related to student debt, is one issue that Democrat, Republicans, independents under 30, they can all agree on. And 57 percent say it is a major problem. Majorities of people from both parties think it's a national priority that needs to be settled right away.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, is that something that has gotten worse over time? How do you see that?

JOHN DELLA VOLPE: We haven't tracked that particular question, Judy, over time. But we have seen, especially for the millennials who are under 25, this increase in importance, and for good reason, on economic issues.

So we see 90, almost 90 percent of young people in community colleges are impacted by the financial situations. These are people who wanted to go to four-year colleges who had to make a different choice, and attend a two-year or a community college instead. So, it's impacting millions of young people across America.

JUDY WOODRUFF: John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard Institute of Politics, thank you.

JOHN DELLA VOLPE: Thanks, Judy.