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Young Americans Watching U.S. Presidential Race

Young Americans Paying Close Attention to Presidential Race

Young Americans are paying attention to the 2008 presidential race, and many are ready to help their preferred candidate achieve victory, a poll by Harvard University's Institute of Politics (IOP) shows.

Like the national average, voter turnout among young Americans has been on the rise. From 2000 to 2004, turnout among 18- to 29-year-olds increased 9 percent, more than double the overall turnout increase. In the 2006 midterm elections, turnout in this age group was 3 percent higher than in 2002, nearly double the national turnout increase. The 2006 election was the first increase in young voter turnout in a nonpresidential election in 24 years.

Today polls indicate that youth turnout in 2008 could once again increase. Polls show that young Americans are paying close attention to both American politics and national and international affairs. A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in March showed that 85 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds say they are interested in keeping up with national affairs.

Young Americans share many of the concerns of those in other generations. In a poll conducted by IOP, the war in Iraq and health care are their top concerns -- mirroring most national polls.

Those who worked on the IOP poll presented their findings at the Brookings Institution in Washington December 5. Conducted online between October 28 and November 9, the poll asked some 2,500 18- to 24-year-olds about the issues that concern them and which candidates they prefer. About half of those polled were college students.

IOP found that 18- to 24-year-olds do not share their parents' and grandparents' views on all issues. For example, youth are more supportive of U.S. leaders unconditionally meeting with heads of rogue nations. They also more strongly believe that international organizations such as the United Nations should take the lead in solving international problems.

Many young people, about 40 percent, consider themselves to be independent, while 35 percent say they are Democrats and 25 percent are Republicans, IOP found. Those who do identify with a party are quite loyal to it -- more than 40 percent of young Republicans and Democrats say they are "strong" members of their party.

Young people are more willing to support a third-party candidate, said John Della Volpe, IOP's polling director. Unsatisfied with the current political parties, about 37 percent of young people from both parties said that a third party is needed, according to IOP.

Young Americans are ready to help out in campaigns -- more than a third said that if asked, they would volunteer for a campaign. Even more are willing to if encouraged by a friend. Sixty percent said they would spread the word about a candidate they like by talking with friends and family.

More than half said they would join a candidate's online group, such as a Facebook group. Candidates have been focusing much of their efforts online, but as Harvard University junior Marina Fisher said, students also like the more traditional methods of promoting a candidate with lawn signs, bumper stickers and rallies. "These seem like the oldest ways of engagement we can think of," Fisher said.

"It is clear that while new media are emerging, the old ones are here to stay," she said.

While much of the media has focused on young Democrats' support of Illinois Senator Barack Obama, the IOP poll shows that young Democrats support many candidates. While Obama is still the preferred Democratic candidate in this poll, it is far from guaranteed that the majority of youth will support him. He is especially popular on college campuses, but those youth not in college favor New York Senator Hillary Clinton.

On the Republican side, the IOP found that young voters favor former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, followed by Arizona Senator John McCain. However, a large number, 30 percent, say they are unsure who they will vote for, which is slightly higher than when IOP polled in March. A rise in undecided voters as the election nears is very unusual, noted Della Volpe.

Della Volpe discussed the difficulty of polling young people. Traditionally, most polls are conducted via landline phone, but nearly half of young voters do not have a landline. Pollsters are not allowed to call cell phones.

With young Democrats, those who do have landline phones tend to have more conservative views and different feelings about the war in Iraq that tend to align them more with Clinton, Della Volpe said, so polls conducted by phone tend to show more Clinton supporters. This may be one reason why the IOP poll, conducted on the Internet, shows Obama leading young Democrats, but a poll by the Sacred Heart Polling Institute conducted by phone two weeks earlier showed Clinton with a large lead.


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