A new survey by the Institute of Politics shows that today’s college students defy common assumptions about them and are engaged, vote, and are not affiliated with either major political party.
The survey, conducted by Schneiders/Della Volpe/Schulman from April 22 to April 30, also shows that college students are poised to become the critical swing voters in 2004 that Soccer Moms and Office Park Dads were in earlier elections.
“Campus kids can be the key swing group of the 2004 elections if the campaigns and the candidates for office properly engage them,” said IOP Director Dan Glickman. “This is an enormous reservoir of potential voters and volunteers, almost 10 million strong, who can be channeled to winning campaigns if they are nurtured.”
That swing voting power may be illustrated in poll results that show the major political parties are ignoring college students because they’re assumed to be disinterested, low-turnout Democrats. That typically leads to the assumption that Democrats can count on their votes, and, due to their low voting power, that Republicans needn’t worry about it.
The poll, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percent, shows those assumptions are false. While just 32 percent of all 18- to 24-year-olds vote, the poll indicated that 86 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds attending college say they definitely or probably will vote. With 9.5 million 18- to 24-year-olds attending college, they are a potentially influential voting bloc.
In addition, the poll showed that students are engaged: 61 percent volunteered for community service in the past year. It also showed that the number attending a political rally or demonstration was on the rise, to 35 percent in the spring poll from 20 percent last fall.
The survey also showed that most college students, 41 percent, are unaffiliated voters, meaning neither party can count on their support.
The poll could provide some guidance for those honing campaign messages, as the percentage of students who said the economy is their number one concern more than doubled from an October poll, to 18 percent from just 7 percent. Nearly three-quarters, 74 percent, said they expected that finding a permanent job would be very or somewhat difficult.
Most students polled say President Bush is doing a good job so far. The war in Iraq was also supported by most college students polled, with war supporters outnumbering opponents by a 2 to 1 margin, or 66 percent to 30 percent. Respondents approved of the job Bush is doing, with 61 percent approving versus 32 percent disapproving.
With those approval ratings, Bush is currently the front-runner for college students’ votes, but not by much, with 34 percent saying they will vote to re-elect Bush. The Democratic candidate, who is still to be chosen, is close behind, with the support of 32 percent of college students. Eight percent favor an independent candidate, with 26 percent unsure of how they’ll vote.