Young Voters More Enthusiastic, Says Harvard IOP Poll

Young people are more enthusiastic about the political process in this election year than they have been in recent years, according to a new poll conducted by the Harvard Institute of Politics.

In a survey of 2,406 Americans between the ages of 18 and 24, nearly seven in 10 respondents said that political engagement is an effective solution to the nation’s problems. By contrast, IOP polling in the fall of 2006 found that 60 percent believed in politics as a way of problem-solving.

IOP Director Bill P. Purcell said that the poll also observed a continued level of high support among American youth for public service.

“There’s a significant change in the belief of young people that the government can make a difference, that politics can produce results, and that it matters to them,” the former Nashville mayor said. “We had many indications of this at the IOP and Phillips Brooks House, but this poll indicates that from one side of America to the other, this generation of young people is ready to be involved and ready to lead.”

The survey also found that nearly six in 10 respondents are interested in solving the nation’s most pressing challenges by entering public service. That sentiment was consistent across party lines, with 68 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of Republicans saying they wanted to participate in service.

Economic woes continue to rank as the nation’s most pressing issue in the minds of respondents. More than half of the young people surveyed said that the economy was their top concern, while the war in Iraq came in second place with nine percent.

In terms of the candidates, Barack Obama holds an almost two-to-one lead over John McCain among young voters.

Sarah Palin has proved to be the more volatile of the two vice-presidential candidates, with 40 percent saying that the choice made them less likely to support the Republican ticket. Twenty-five percent said that McCain’s choice of Palin made them more likely to vote for the Arizona senator. On the other hand, 60 percent of those surveyed said that Obama’s choice of Joe Biden made no difference in their voting behavior.

The poll also found that 26 percent of young people most wanted the next president to be like Bill Clinton, while 11 percent selected Ronald Reagan.

“Young people want a president like Clinton because, a) they remember him, and b) they remember that his administration was a time of prosperity in America,” said IOP Director of Polling John Della Volpe. “Most importantly, our nation was respected in the world.”

Purcell also noted that the survey showed potential for young people to take a more active role in politics, and said that the IOP would be sure to reach out to Harvard students in future years.

“For us, like the next president, the most important thing is that we act upon this interest and make sure that there are opportunities and avenues for this excitement and involvement to be meaningful,” Purcell said.

—Staff Writer Prateek Kumar can be reached at kumar@fas.harvard.edu.