Campus & Community

Collegians may vote in record numbers

3 min read

Poll says students favor Kerry; economy is top issue

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 Kerry maintains a 13-point lead among college students. 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 9 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 David King, associate director at the IOP.

The survey involved 1,202 college students drawn randomly from a national database of nearly 5.1 million students. Among the findings are the following:

  • Although they believe Bush is a stronger and clearer leader, the respondents continue to favor Kerry over Bush. Fifty-two percent of students favor Kerry, while 39 percent say they support Bush. However, Bush leads Kerry, 49-36, on which candidate is a “strong leader,” and Bush outpaces Kerry 57-27 on which candidate takes a “clear stand on issues.” Bush also edges Kerry out 46 percent to 42 percent on who “will make the country safer and more secure.”
  • Economy is the No. 1 issue in determining college students’ 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 poll found strong support for Kerry among female voters on college campuses. 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.
  • Reaching out to students is making a difference. Sixty-two percent of students reported that they have been encouraged to vote.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