BOSTON -- Oct. 21 -- A new national poll by Harvard University's Institute of Politics (IOP) finds exceptionally high interest in the presidential campaign on college campuses, and turnout among college students is expected to rise dramatically. Nearly 72 percent of college students report that they are "certain" they are registered to vote and "definitely" plan on voting this November. More than in other years, students believe that they have a stake -- and will have a say -- in the outcome of the election. |
The Harvard poll also reports that Senator Kerry maintains a 13-point lead among college students, and a slightly stronger 17- point advantage among likely voters in key swing states. Kerry's lead appears to be a function of several factors, including strong support from female voters and Independents, dissatisfaction over the war in Iraq, concern for the economy, and movement of formerly uncommitted voters to the Kerry camp.
"There are over nine million college students in America, and their vote will matter this year -- especially in swing states," said IOP Director Philip Sharp. "Neither campaign can afford to ignore them. Our findings represent a major revival of student political engagement."
Higher than average student turnout in swing states appears linked to get-out-the-vote efforts. "Students in swing states have been approached time and again about registering and about voting, and those on-campus drives have clearly mobilized thousands of new voters," reports Professor David King, Associate Director at the IOP.
The survey of 1202 college students, drawn randomly from a national database of nearly 5.1 million students finds:
-- Although they believe Bush is a stronger and clearer leader, they continue to favor Kerry over Bush. Fifty-two percent of students favor Kerry, while 39 percent say they support President Bush. However, President Bush leads Kerry, 49-36, on which candidate is a "strong leader," and the President outpaces Kerry 57-27 on which candidate takes a "clear stand on issues." President Bush also edges Kerry out 46 percent to 42 percent on who "will make the country safer and more secure."
-- They feel more connected to Kerry and believe he would be a better Commander in Chief. Kerry leads Bush 54-31 among students on which candidate "understands the problems" of people like them, and again 49-39 on which candidate students feel shares their values. Kerry also edges Bush 49-42 when students were asked which candidate is better qualified to be Commander in Chief.
-- Kerry's support high in "battleground" states. Likely voters favor Kerry 55-38 in fourteen key swing states. Nearly one-third of college students nationwide attend four-year public or private colleges in these states, making the campus vote even more important in this election.
-- Economy is the number-one issue in determining college students' vote for President. Forty-two percent of college students say the economy is the most important or second most important issue in determining their vote for President. Other important issues include the situation in Iraq with 38 percent citing it as the most or second most important issue, followed by terrorism and homeland security at 33 percent, moral value issues (such as gay marriage and abortion) at 29 percent, and education at 27 percent.
-- Dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq reaches a new high. Agreement with the war in Iraq has reached an all-time low among college students. For the first time since 2002, more students oppose having gone to war than support it.
-- More students feel country headed on wrong track than in the right direction. For the first time since the IOP began asking in the fall of 2002, more students feel the country is headed off on the "wrong track" than in the right direction. Forty-five percent believe the country is on the "wrong track," while 41 percent believe the country is headed in the "right direction" -- a five percent drop in the last year.
-- Students are engaged and motivated. Ninety-one percent of college students care "a good deal" about who wins the Presidential election. Seventy-three percent believe political involvement can have tangible results, and 87 percent believe politics is relevant to their life right now -- up 25 percent and 20 percent respectively from April 2004 IOP polling. Students are also focused on the upcoming election -- 75 percent report having discussed the election in the past 24 hours.
-- As the election draws closer, students are beginning to identify with one of the major parties. For the first time since 2000, a plurality of students do not identify themselves as independents. Thirty-four percent identify themselves as Democrats, 33 percent as Independents, and 29 percent as Republicans. The number of students identifying themselves as Independents has fallen 8 percent over the past year from 41 percent last October to 33 percent today. Undecided voters continue to break for Kerry. Kerry's vote share has increased to 52 percent from 48 percent six months ago, while Bush's vote share has remained static at 38-39 percent.
-- Kerry gets the female vote, but Bush's advantage among men disappears. The poll found strong support for Kerry among female voters on college campuses, which tracks his support by women in the general population. However, Bush, who enjoys stronger numbers than Kerry among men in the general population, does not seem to have an advantage over Kerry with male college voters. While female students favor Kerry over Bush, 58-34, the race is almost dead-even among male college students, 47-46.
-- Not only are students coming, they are talking -- and doing their homework. Eighty-four percent say they talk about politics or current events at least once a week -- representing the highest level of political discussion on college campuses since the days following September 11, 2001. Sixty-nine percent reported that they watched the presidential debates as a way to get information about the candidates.
-- Reaching out to students is making a difference. Sixty-two percent of students reported that they have been encouraged to vote. Over half said they had been either assisted in registering or encouraged to register by a group or individual. Of those who had been encouraged to register, over 72 percent had been encouraged by their college administration or a student group at their college.
-- College students are much more likely to vote early or by absentee ballot. Well over half of college students who plan to vote in the November election will not be voting in person at a polling place. Forty-two percent of students reported they will be voting by absentee ballot, and another 14 percent reported they plan on "early voting."
Harvard students designed the poll, in consultation with Professor David King and pollster John Della Volpe, whose firm Schneiders/Della Volpe/Schulman conducted the survey and analyzed the data. Complete results and past surveys are available online at http://www.iop.harvard.edu/ .