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College students are more likely to identify themselves as independents and support John Kerry than to classify themselves as Democrats or Republicans or vote for President Bush, according to a survey released yesterday by the Institute of Politics (IOP).
The poll, which surveyed 1,205 college students nationwide, revealed that Senator John F. Kerry, D-Mass., leads President Bush by 10 percentage points and that 41 percent of students identify themselves as independents.
Despite Kerry’s significant lead, which appears to reflect increasing disapproval of the war in Iraq, a continued weak job market and the White House’s stance on gay marriage, more than 37 percent of college students say they still do not know enough about Kerry’s political views.
“Concern over the job market and the war in Iraq and weakness in the job market has caught up with Bush,” IOP Director Daniel R. Glickman said in a press release.
“College students now share the general public’s more mixed view of the President, and Senator Kerry is benefitting from this shift. Still these are very independent voters who are open to persuasion, and it would be in the best interests of both parties to reach out to them aggressively,” Glickman continued.
Caitlin W. Monahan ’06, who helped direct the survey, said the results of the poll indicate that college students—61 percent of whom said they will definitely vote in the 2004 election—will likely tip the scales in the upcoming presidential election.
“We’re now seeing an active and more engaged youth demographic that disagrees with the Bush administration, but also likely still impressionable,” said Jonathan S. Chavez ’05, who also helped conduct the survey for the IOP’s Student Advisory Committee.
“Students are now realigning themselves more with the national population than earlier this year,” Chavez said.
Glickman said the survey highlights not only the important national issues of this election, but also the growing significance of the young demographic.
“More than ever, college students are paying very close attention to national politics. It would be foolish for either of the candidates to lose this new generation of voters in the fray,” Monahan said.
Of particular importance, according to the pollsters, is the relative “softness” of Kerry’s support, since a significant number of college students still admit that they know too little about Kerry to rate him or even identify him by face.
“This is more a no-vote for Bush than a yes-vote for Senator Kerry. Students are now voting on the social, economic and political issues that face our nation and are looking for any alternative to Bush,” Chavez said.
The poll also pioneered a new method for measuring the political ideology of America’s college students.
An 11-question “IOP Political Personality Test” determined that the traditional liberal and conservative split no longer applies to nearly half of college students, who are more accurately grouped in categories defined by moral and religious attitudes.
While traditional liberals and conservatives encompass 32 and 16 percent of the college population, respectively, the poll adds two new categories—“religious centrists” and “secular centrists”—to describe college students’ political affiliations.
Religious centrists, an ethnically diverse group that comprises 23 percent of the students polled, support affirmative action and believe that religion should play a more important role in national politics. Secular centrists—29 percent of the students—oppose affirmative action, support gay marriage and advocate a less intrusive, less religiously oriented government.
According to Associate Professor of Public Policy David C. King, who assisted in the survey, this new political taxonomy will likely have a powerful impact on the upcoming election.
“Neither party can win simply by appealing to traditional blocs of Republicans and Democrats,” King said.
Chavez and Monahan joined Glickman in Washington, D.C. yesterday to present the survey findings to strategists and the national media at the National Press Club.
They anticipate that the results of the poll will lead both Bush and Kerry to solicit the youth vote more actively, both by visiting college campuses and more personally appealing to the young demographic.
On Monday, Kerry kicked off a campaign tour of college campuses.
—Staff writer Kimberly A. Kicenuik can be reached at email@example.com.
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