Young People Disillusioned by Political Climate, IOP Survey Shows

President Barack Obama’s lead among young people age 18 to 29 has increased slightly since March to 19 percentage points with less than three weeks until election day, according to a new survey by Harvard’s Institute of Politics released Wednesday morning.

Obama, who won handily among young voters in 2008 but has seen enthusiasm for his campaign wane this time around, leads former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney 55 percent to 36 percent among young people, the survey showed.

Obama’s lead among likely college voters, is significantly smaller, however, at 10 percentage points.

Even as the president remains popular among young people, excitement about the election among that group continues to dip. Though 67 percent of those surveyed said they were registered to vote, only 48 percent said they “definitely” plan to vote on Nov. 6. Among college students, only 63 percent of those surveyed said they are registered, compared to 79 percent in 2008. Only 48 percent said the “definitely” plan to cast a ballot on election day.

“Unfortunately I think we’re headed for a serious step back in participation and turnout,” said John Della Volpe, the IOP’s director of polling, who oversaw the survey. “We’re looking at 4-5 million fewer voters under 30 years old,” he added.

The reason, IOP Director C. M. Trey Grayson ’94 said, is that a growing number of young people are disillusioned by the stalemate in Congress and persistent weakness in the economy.

Forty-three percent of those surveyed agreed it does not matter who is elected in November, Washington is broken. Additionally, 31 percent agreed that neither of the candidates represent their views.

The IOP pollsters said this trend should be particularly troubling for Obama, who relied heavily on young people in 2008. While 52 percent of those surveyed said they think Obama will win re-election, Romney voters seem more committed to showing their support with 65 percent saying they will “definitely” vote compared to only 55 percent of Obama supporters who say they will “definitely” vote.

Despite their disillusionment with Washington, most in the survey still favor Obama’s policy stances.

The survey, which overlapped with the first presidential debate, showed young voters still trust Obama more than Romney on a number of issues from health care to foreign policy. Forty-seven percent of young voters also said they trust Obama more than they trust Romney to deal with the ailing economy, the area where Romney is generally perceived to be the strongest. Only 28 percent said they trust Romney more.

In evaluating the job Obama has done as president, 62 percent agreed that the problems he faced upon entering office are “so complex it takes more than 4 years to do the job.” Thirty-three percent disagreed, responding that “despite his best efforts, Obama has failed.”

The IOP survey, taken between Sept. 19 and Oct. 3, asked 2,123 18- to 29-year old U.S, citizens a range of questions about November’s presidential election and their political mood more generally. The survey has a 2.1-point margin of error.

A similar survey taken by the IOP in March, showed Obama leading Romney 51 percent to 34 percent overall.

—Staff writer Nicholas P. Fandos can be reached at nicholasfandos@college.harvard.edu.

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