College vote waning for Bush, poll says

Iraq war, jobs send students to Kerry's corner

By Tim Jones
Tribune national correspondent

April 16, 2004

President Bush's support on college campuses has dropped substantially in the past six months because of growing student dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq, the weak job market and Bush's stance on gay marriage, according to a poll released Thursday.

The survey from the Kennedy School of Government's Institute of Politics at Harvard University showed college students favoring Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee, over Bush 48 percent to 38 percent. Independent candidate Ralph Nader drew the support of 5 percent.

Among students who say they definitely will vote in November, Kerry's lead over Bush widened to 56 percent to 33 percent.

The poll of 1,205 college students reflects clear shifts in attitudes on college campuses, which last fall gave Bush higher marks than did the public overall. In some ways, the students are now more in sync with the public, with divided views on the president's performance in office.

Dan Glickman, the institute's director and a former Clinton Cabinet member, said he "wondered when the war would start taking its toll on the president. These numbers ought to be a warning to the president, but they are not necessarily locked-in-stone good news for the Kerry campaign."

The poll, conducted March 13-23 and with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points, showed Bush's job approval falling 14 percentage points, from 61 percent to 47 percent. Campus support for the Iraq war also dropped from 58 percent in October to 49 percent. The war ranks as the top issue among students, while the economy has been the first concern of the general public.

Much has changed since October's campus poll. Six months ago, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean seemed poised to win the Democratic nomination and Kerry was a distant second or worse. Iraq seemed more stable than it is now and gay marriage was not on the radar.

Sharp differences over gay marriage separate college students from the overall population. Fifty-seven percent of the college students surveyed support marriage between homosexuals, while 61 percent of the overall population opposes it.

In February, Bush announced his support of a constitutional amendment banning such unions.

Glickman said student support for gay marriage reflects a more tolerant philosophy and a desire "of students not wanting the government to tell them what to do with their lives."

While Kerry is the apparent beneficiary of the shifting political attitudes, the poll notes that support for the Massachusetts senator is soft. More than a third--37 percent--said they did not know enough about Kerry to hold an opinion of him or do not recognize his name. Much of Kerry's support, the poll suggests, stems from a desire to find an alternative to Bush.

Student worries about the job market remain dominant. By a 2-1 margin, the majority of them think it will be somewhat or very difficult to find a job after graduating.

The college-age voter is being redefined, as liberal and conservative labels no longer fit. Forty-one percent of students consider themselves independent, up from 38 percent last fall. Fewer consider themselves Republican--24 percent, down from 31 percent in October--and 32 percent Democratic, up from 27 percent.

Although 62 percent of those surveyed said they definitely will vote in November and 21 percent said they probably will vote, young Americans generally are the least dedicated voters on Election Day. Surveys have shown increasing interest in politics on campuses, but in 2000, only 29 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds voted, compared with 50 percent of all voters, the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate reported.

Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune

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