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College students are more likely to register as Republicans and support President Bush than the general public, according to a survey released yesterday by Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP).
The nationwide poll of 1,202 undergraduates revealed that 61 percent approve of Bush’s performance as president, compared to 53 percent of all voters.
College students, 81 percent of whom say they will definitely or probably vote in the 2004 elections, could tip the scales in next year’s presidential race, the survey results indicated.
“It sends the message that youth are up for grabs in 2004,” said Jonathan S. Chavez ’05, who directed the survey for the IOP’s Student Advisory Committee (SAC).
“In the same way that politicians look at senior citizens or veterans or farmers as voting blocks, they have to have a similar perspective on younger voters,” said IOP Director Daniel R. Glickman, who served as secretary of agriculture from 1995 to 2001.
College students form “an untapped reservoir for politicians and political parties to mine,” Glickman said.
Democratic college students slightly favored Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., over former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, 17 percent to 16 percent, among 2004 democratic presidential hopefuls.
Retired General Wesley K. Clark trailed with 9 percent, and the Reverend Al Sharpton, who is scheduled to visit Harvard on Monday, followed with 8 percent.
But Dean’s supporters, the survey concluded, are more involved in the campaign.
The survey found that 71 percent of Dean’s supporters were willing to volunteer for his campaign, compared to only 49 percent of Lieberman’s supporters.
“Right now Lieberman is doing well because of name recognition,” Chavez said.
But Lieberman spokesperson Jano G. Cabrera said that college students, having grown up during the Clinton-Gore years, are more likely to support Lieberman’s centrist policies on free trade, crime, and taxes.
The Dean campaign is “reaching out very aggressively to college students across the country,” said spokesperson Garrett M. Graff ‘03, who noted that Dean spoke to more than 10,000 students in six states during a four day span in early October. Survey respondents expressed mounting frustration with the President Bush’s foreign policy, with 87 percent saying that “members of the Bush administration” have been “hiding some things” or “mostly not telling the truth” about the situation in Iraq.
Still, students seem to admire Bush’s leadership ability.
“They like the warrior but they don’t like the war,” Glickman said.
Although college students historically have supported Democratic candidates, neither party can take the youth vote for granted, Glickman said.
“The majority of college students elect politicians based on leadership skills, experience and authenticity,” said vice-president of the IOP-SAC Betsy A. Sykes ’04, who oversaw the survey.
“I think we were more affected by 9/11 than the general population, and we don’t have any other war experience or world event with which to compare it,” Sykes said.
But Bush cannot take any post-September 11 popularity for granted as he moves into the 2004 election, Glickman said.
“The big failure is that politicians and political parties have largely ignored the student vote. They would rather use their resources to go after voters they know are going to show up at the polls,” Glickman said, noting that only 35 percent of college students cast ballots in the 2000 presidential race.
But Senator John Edwards (D-NC), who has courted the youth vote, has generated a tepid response from college voters, Chavez said.
“John Edwards has a plank on his platform that is youth-oriented”—an ambitious “College for Everyone” plan to supplement work-study grants for first-year students, “but it is not resonating yet,” Chavez said.
After Edwards visited the IOP to launch the MSNBC series “Hardball: Battle for the White House” on Oct. 13, “people were commenting more about the fact that he couldn’t answer what his favorite movie was than what he said about the issues,” Sykes said.
“In terms of how we evaluate our public officials, Harvard students are in line with the survey’s results,” Sykes said. “I definitely don’t think it’s this hotbed of liberalism that people from the outside say it is.”
Chavez said that Harvard is “self-selectively more liberal because it is an institution of the Northeast,” where left-of-center candidates tend to fare better. But Glickman said that Harvard students’ opinions “would not deviate dramatically” from national norms.
“Even students at Harvard are more conservative than they were 30 years ago,” Glickman said.
Chavez, Sykes, and Guillermo A. Coronado ‘05, chair of the IOP-SAC’s projects committee, joined Glickman and Solomon in Washington yesterday to present their survey’s findings to political strategists and the national media.
Glickman and the students briefed political reporters at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor and answered questions at the National Press Club. Glickman and Sykes also taped an interview with Bob Oakes of National Public Radio, which will air this morning on WBUR 90.9 FM.
“Students added color, legitimacy and authenticity to the conversation,” Sykes said.
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