WASHINGTON – College students are redefining politics and straying from the established political factions,according to a report released Thursday by Harvard University's Institute of Politics.
Rather than identifying with conventional Republican or Democratic ideologies,52 percent of college students fall into categories pollsters named “The Religious Center” and “The Secular Center.”
The poll also revealed that students' support for the president has declined,they favor Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry for president,they view the job market as weak and they generally support gay marriage.
“Young people are on the vanguard of a new political ideology. … It's based around religious values,” said David King,the institute's director.
“We find that most students are centrists and are highly independent,rejecting traditional labels of liberal and conservative,” he said.
Support for the president has fallen 14 points since last fall,and the 47 percent approval rating from students is now in line with the general population's view.
“I think that is directly tied to the war in Iraq,” said John Della Volpe,partner in the national polling firm that performed the poll. “A year ago … college students actually had a more favorable view of the president than the population in general.”
The poll also revealed that 62 percent of college students definitely plan to vote in the November election. That is at least 1 million voters,a group of swing voters that should attract the attention of both candidates.
“You really cannot discount college students in the election this year,” said Caitlin Monahan,Harvard student and member of the survey design and analysis team.
While the poll showed college students favor Kerry by 10 points,pollsters called it a “soft lead” and said that students are actually looking for an alternative to President Bush.
“We believe it is,at this stage,more of a referendum on the Bush presidency rather than a referendum on the Kerry ticket,” Della Volpe said.
Pollsters said that to attract the student vote candidates must reach out to the middle rather than concentrate on their ideological bases.
While 32 percent of students call themselves Democrats,and 24 percent said they are Republicans,the biggest group – 41 percent – said they were unaffiliated.
For that group,the poll judged their values as either religious or secular.
“Young people tend to be disaffected by the political parties. They don't want to be seen as Republican or Democratic,” King said. “In some ways they are repulsed by the extremism of the parties.”
Three-quarters of the respondents said religion was important to them,and one-third said they are born-again Christians.
More than half said they would vote for someone for president who did not believe in God. Nearly a quarter of the students polled said they would like to see religion play a larger role in the government.
Fifty-seven percent of college students approved of legalizing gay marriage,compared to 33 percent of the general public.
A third of college students said defense,including the situation in Iraq and the war or terrorism,is their main concern in response to an open-ended question about national issues. Social issues,the economy and foreign policy were next.
The poll also asked some non-political questions. Asked who they'd rather have as a college roommate,Bush or Kerry,the answer was a statistical tie – 43 percent for Bush and 42 percent for Kerry. And asked which reality TV show they'd like to appear on,38 percent said MTV's “The Real World,” and 25 percent said NBC's “The Apprentice.”
The poll's sponsors said it is the only of its kind. They have surveyed college students every few months since the last presidential election. Just over 1,200 college students were selected from a national database and interviewed by telephone in mid-March. The poll has a margin of error of 2.8 percent.