Harvard poll finds students back Kerry, more likely to vote than in 2000

by Josh Verges

College students are more likely to vote this year than in 2000, and most of them will vote for Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., according to a recent poll.

The latest survey from the Harvard Institute of Politics showed 62 percent of college students will “definitely be voting” in this year’s presidential election, compared to 50 percent that said the same before the 2000 election.

Leaders from University political groups said they are not surprised with this year’s increased interest.

“(The) 9-11 (attacks) drastically changed everyone in America’s life,” College Republicans Chairman Tyler Richter said.

University DFL President Austin Miller said the 2000 presidential election’s results might affect student voting.

“Students are realizing what’s at stake,” Miller said. “We know what happened when we didn’t vote last time: (President George W.) Bush got elected.”

Of the likely student voters, 56 percent said they will vote for Kerry, while 33 percent said they favored Bush. The latest CNN/Gallup survey shows the general population prefers Bush to Kerry by 4 percentage points.

Bush’s approval rating also dropped from 61 percent in a Harvard poll from October to 47 percent most recently.

“The numbers will go up and down. I’m not concerned at all,” Richter said. “Bush’s ground game and message are strong.”

Miller said the decline was because of growing opposition to Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq, highlighted by the book release and testimony of Richard Clarke, Bush’s former anti-terrorism adviser.

Though Kerry has the lead in the poll, Bush-backers more strongly support their candidate. Of Kerry’s likely voters, 13 percent had a “very favorable” opinion of him, while 38 percent of Bush supporters said the same of the president.

University political science professor and political analyst Larry Jacobs said those numbers match the general public’s opinions of the two candidates.

“Republicans, in general, tend to be more unified behind the president,” he said. “A vote for Kerry may not be a very enthusiastic vote.”

Those polled ranked the war in Iraq as their chief concern.

Richter said that ranking was because of the high number of college-aged soldiers stationed in Iraq.

“Nineteen years old is the average age of the soldiers in Iraq,” Richter said. “It’s our friends, brothers and sisters doing the fighting over there.”

Though student interest in politics is up, fewer students now identify with the two major parties, according to the poll.

Since fall 2000, the number of students identifying themselves as independent has grown from 33 percent to 41 percent. In that same time, student Democrats have slipped from 34 percent to 32 percent, and student Republicans have shrunk from 28 percent to 24 percent.

Jacobs said those who call themselves independent are often less informed and less interested in politics.

The Harvard group conducted telephone interviews from March 12-23 with 1,205 undergraduates eligible to vote in the 2004 U.S. presidential election. The poll had a margin of error plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.