A new national poll by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics (IOP), located at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), finds that 18- to 24-year-old likely voters continue to prefer U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (56 percent) over U.S. Sen. John McCain (30 percent) in the race for president. Economic issues are far and away the No. 1 national issue of concern for young people — over 10 times more important today (53 percent) than they were just one year ago (5 percent).
“The remarkable youth voter turnout in the primary process underscored the historic role young people are playing in the political process this year,” said IOP Director Bill Purcell. “Our new poll results show young Americans are looking forward to improving their country through public service and to their participation making the difference on Election Day.”
The online survey of 2,406 18- to 24-year-old U.S. citizens conducted by Harris Interactive for the IOP between Sept. 12 and Oct. 6 finds the following:
Obama is favored among 18 to 24-year-old likely voters by nearly a 2-1 margin over McCain in the race for president. Just weeks before Election Day, Obama held a 26-point lead, a lead that has remained virtually unchanged since July IOP polling. Obama’s lead grows slightly among young people saying they will “definitely” be voting. As IOP polling also showed in July, young people continue to say they “trust” Obama more than McCain on eight out of 10 major domestic and foreign policy issues facing the country.
According to the poll, youth are ready to answer a new call for public service, including working in government. Almost six in 10 (59 percent) 18- to 24-year-olds say that they are personally interested in engaging in some form of public service to help the country. Nearly one-half (47 percent) of this group said engagement could include working for the federal, state, or local government; almost a third (32 percent) said they would think about getting involved in a political campaign; and nearly two in 10 (17 percent) said they would consider running for office. Importantly, this is one issue where strong support is seen regardless of party (Democrats, 68 percent; Republicans, 63 percent; Independents, 57 percent), presidential candidate supported (Obama supporters, 67 percent; McCain supporters, 63 percent), or gender (women, 63 percent; men, 55 percent) of young people today.
Economy is 10 times more important to young people today than one year ago. More than half of young people (53 percent) say economic issues are their top concern. IOP polling showed 30 percent of young people expressing the same opinion in March and only 5 percent in the fall of 2007. During the same time period, the percentage of young people who said Iraq and the war in general were their top concern fell from 37 percent (fall 2007) to 20 percent (March 2008) to 9 percent today. No other issue in this year’s poll garnered more than 9 percent.
The choice of Sen. Joe Biden for vice president shows little effect, while choosing Gov. Sarah Palin has hurt among Independents and women. When 18- to 24-year-old likely voters were asked whether each candidate’s vice presidential selection made them more or less likely to support that ticket in November, six in 10 (60 percent) said that Obama’s pick of U.S. Sen. Joe Biden made no difference with just 21 percent saying the pick made them more likely and 19 percent saying less likely to support the ticket. However, while only 35 percent of young people said McCain’s selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin made no difference, 40 percent of young voters said the pick made them “less likely” to support the ticket with 25 percent saying “more likely.” Among young people self-identifying as Independents, the Biden VP pick had a net 8 percentage point negative effect, while the Palin VP pick had a net 22 percentage point negative effect.
When young people were asked in an open-ended question which previous or current president they would prefer our next president to be most like, Bill Clinton was the top choice (26 percent) with Ronald Reagan second (11 percent).
College students who plan on voting are more likely to vote early or by absentee ballot. Among college students who said they will “definitely vote,” 45 percent said that they plan to vote at their local polling place. However, a bigger percentage (49 percent) said they won’t be voting in person at a polling place — 41 percent of students reported they will be voting by absentee ballot and another 8 percent reported they plan on “early voting.”
Harvard students designed the poll in consultation with IOP Polling Director John Della Volpe, whose firm Social Sphere Strategies commissioned Harris Interactive to conduct the survey.