A new national poll by Harvard University's Institute of Politics suggests that Democratic presidential contender Senator John F. Kerry holds a 10-point lead over President Bush among America's college students.
The findings mark a significant shift in political sentiment among young voters since a similar Harvard survey in October indicated greater support for Bush.
A shaky economy, the war in Iraq, and the ongoing debate over legalizing gay marriage have shifted the college vote in Kerry's favor, researchers said. Forty-eight percent of the respondents said they would vote for Kerry if they had to vote today. Thirty-eight percent said they would vote for Bush.
The survey polled 1,205 college students picked randomly from a national database of nearly 5.1 million and has a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points.
David C. King, a public policy professor at Harvard who helped oversee the poll, said young voters do not entirely choose a candidate along party lines. About 40 percent of the respondents said they preferred to vote based on other factors, such as stance on issues or personality.
''College students don't necessarily want to be seen as liberal or conservative," King said, noting that party affiliations are sometimes viewed as ''dirty labels" by young people.
Support for the war in Iraq and Bush's job approval ratings both showed declines. Forty-nine percent of respondents said they supported the war, down from 58 percent in October, and 47 percent said they approve of the job Bush is doing, down from 61 percent in the last survey.
Likewise, the number of students identifying themselves as Republicans declined from 31 percent to 24 percent, while Democratic identification increased from 27 percent to 32 percent.
When asked in October whether they would vote for Bush, 38 percent of the respondents said they would, while 33 percent said they would vote for the Democratic candidate.
In the most recent survey, two-thirds of the students said they believe it will be difficult to find a job after graduation. And 57 percent supported same-sex marriage.
Of the students polled, 62 percent said they will ''definitely" vote in November. But in 2000, only 42 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted, according to data from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at the University of Maryland.
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