Harvard pollster John Della Volpe: Translator between millennial, baby boomer generations
Managing News Editor
On Nov. 20, John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, sat down with university professor of communication Lindsay Hoffman to discuss global sentiment, opinion and influence amongst the millennial generation as part of the National Agenda Speaker Series.
Della Volpe takes special interest in researching and polling the trends of millennials in an era where he says the sphere of politics is taking a dramatic shift. As a pollster, he often considered himself as a translator between the millennial and boomer generations, both of which he said experience conflict in trying to interpret and understand the views of the other.
“84% of baby boomers have a favorable impression of their own generation,” Della Volpe said. “31% of baby boomers have a favorable impression of the millennial generation, essentially their children.”
Della Volpe said he often found himself repeating certain pieces of information to other when explaining modern polling trends. He said when acting as an “interpreter” between generations, he often emphasizes the fact that the millennial generation is the largest generation in the history of America and that its views differ dramatically from any other generation alive today.
“Essentially [with] their children and their grandchildren, [baby boomers] don’t understand where that anger is coming from,” Della Volpe said.
Alyssa Hornung is a National Agenda student and junior political science major at the university. When given the opportunity by Della Volpe, Hornung discussed what angered her about modern politics.
“I’m angry because I didn’t choose a lot of the things I had to deal with when I chose between colleges,” Hornung said. “I chose between $10,000 of debt a year to up to $40,000 of debt a year for the majors I wanted to go to school for. These were not decisions that I made. They were repercussions that I had to deal with.”
However, according to Della Volpe, this anger felt by the millennial generation has translated into action.
“We can see that in [the Institute of Politics’] survey,” Della Volpe said. “And then the benefit of the anger, I think, is that it’s being fueled into power, into organizing, into voting.”
At one point in time, the voting trends of millennials and baby boomers were quite similar. However, according to Della Volpe, the values of millennials have changed in the world that is now post-Hurricane Katrina, post-9/11 and must discuss issues far different than those found in the early 2000s, such as gun rights and school shootings.
“For example, back in 2000, if you look at the exit polls, and of course that was a razor tight election, but the 25-year-old and the 65-year-old voted essentially the exact same way,” Della Volpe said. “Young people were two points less likely to be Democrats. They are 36 points more likely to be Democrats today.”
From his polls, Della Volpe said he has come to the conclusion that millennials have and will continue to become more progressive.
“They have continued to turn progressive based on every single measure that we have used,” Della Volpe said.
This trend of millennial progressiveness may continue for years to come, according to Della Volpe.
“I’m happy to debunk the fear that when you get older, you become more conservative because there is no indication that the millennial generation has become more conservative,” Della Volpe said.
However, though the majority of the millennial generation may lean toward the left side of the political spectrum, they still maintain subtleties in their voting trends. Hoffman, the moderator of all National Agenda debates, found the distinguishment in those voting for progressive leaders versus pragmatic leaders quite interesting.
“It’s about half and half, people who are saying that they want a progressive leader versus a more pragmatic leader, who would be someone who’s more like a Joe Biden or a Pete Buttigieg who’s all about compromise and being practical on taking on issues,” Hoffman said.
However, she did take the fact that polls can be interpreted differently from person to person into consideration.
“Do young people even know what they mean by saying those things?” Hoffman said. “This is one of the conflicts of the poll. We make assumptions that people understand the questions that you’re asking them but progressive can have a lot of different meanings. Pragmatic is pretty clear, I think, But progressive can mean a lot of things: socially progressive, economically progressive. Words like that can make interpreting surveys a little confusing.”