A Better Read: An Innovative Polling Project That's Drawn in Big Grants

Whatever else can be said about the 2016 election, it's hard to remember a more epic failure of modern polling. And it's not because pollsters weren't working overtime. New polls came out daily for months on end. Yet despite such an overabundance, gathering accurate results can be hard in this age of mobile phones. And getting a fix on how young people are thinking is especially challenging, not just at election time, but more broadly.  

Though studies often portray them as a monolith, Millennial interests depend heavily on factors like race, ethnicity, class and gender. The voices of youth of color, though prominent in the media through Black Lives Matter and other activist movements, can be difficult for researchers to capture systemically and without distortion. Some funders have supported work to change that. 

Based at the University of Chicago, the Black Youth Project’s GenForward studies are an attempt to highlight how youth of color exemplify—and diverge from—the nation’s youth as a whole. Founded in 2005 by Cathy J. Cohen, a political science professor at the university’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture, the Black Youth Project (BYP) receives implementation support from the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Funding the project are sizable grants from the Ford and MacArthur Foundations.

BYP’s GenForward is a “first of its kind,” nationally representative survey conducted month by month. It looks at over 1,750 young adults between 18 and 30, with a special focus on how race and ethnicity play into respondents’ worldviews. October’s GenForward survey, unsurprisingly, was all about the election.

Also unsurprising, that survey put Hillary Clinton well ahead of Donald Trump across young voter demographics. While youth of color skewed more heavily in favor of the Democrat, young, non-Hispanic whites still favor Clinton. As of the survey, Clinton stood poised to win 60 percent of young voters overall, the same percentage that Barack Obama carried in 2012. As it turned out, Clinton won 55 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29. 

Though BYP dates back over a decade, support from major foundations like Ford and MacArthur is a recent phenomenon. The grants started coming in last year, including $200,000 from Ford and $500,000 from MacArthur for GenForward. MacArthur locates its GenForward giving under its journalism and media program. Ford renewed its support in 2016 with another $200,000.

On top of that, Ford gave BYP another $200,000 in 2015 for its BYP100 activist leadership development program. Unlike the more research-minded GenForward, BYP100 engages in direct action and advocacy around social justice for black people.

In the politically volatile post-election environment, monthly surveys like BYP’s GenForward will be useful tools to determine where young people stand, especially youth of color. Will they withdraw from civic life after the election of the most racially divisive presidential candidate in memory? Or commit new energy to shaping a politics that reflects their values? Stayed tuned. But what's nice is that new research is going on to answer questions like these.