WASHINGTON – Nearly one-third of 18- to 24-year-olds plan to vote Nov. 7,according to a Harvard poll released Wednesday.
Slightly more than half said they favored swapping the majority parties in Congress.
Totaling 27 million,youth voters count for nearly 10 percent of the population,a number that could swing an election,said Jeanne Shaheen,director of Harvard's Institute of Politics and the former governor of New Hampshire.
“There's a lot of close races in the country right now,” Shaheen said. “Young voters could make the difference in campaigns across the country.”
Polling director John Della Volpe said the number is likely to drop below one-third by election day,but young adults seem prepared to challenge the previous record for their age range of 26.6 percent in 1982.
“Although we can't just rely on our numbers,it's a step in the right direction,” Della Volpe said. “Voter turnout is still likely to be in the mid-20s,which is a pretty major shift since the '02 midterm election when their turnout numbers were in the teens.”
While the generation split nearly evenly between Democrats and Republicans,39 percent chose neither party.
“These days,they're independents,” research director David King said. “They're there for the taking. Parties … can get these young people on their side.”
Yet those who called themselves independents were more likely to lean left than right.
Combining independents and those leaning Democratic means just over half said they were “most likely” to vote for Democrats,with 29 percent saying they would vote for Republicans. The remainder reported no preference.
Asked to grade President Bush's progress on seven prominent issues,young adults gave him a grade that averaged a C-minus. The president was graded for his campaign against terrorism,education,the environment,the economy,health care,illegal immigration and the war in Iraq. The president earned his worst grade on Iraq,a D-minus. None of the individual grades was higher than a C.
Among 18- to 24-year-olds,the poll showed recent college graduates were more likely to vote than those who never attended college or were still in high school.
Recent college graduates “had a greater opportunity to be connected to the political process while on campus,” Shaheen said.
The poll's sponsors consider the 11th biannual survey of 2,500 young adults its most comprehensive. For the first time,it included young adults who do not attend college by conducting the poll through an online survey Oct. 4 to 16.
Predicting the youth vote has proven a prickly challenge because most voting polls are conducted by random telephone dialing,but that does not include the 82 percent of young adults who use cell phones rather than land lines. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.
Although this generation has had lower voter turnout than other generations,past Harvard polls have shown the “9/11 generation” to be increasingly involved in politics and volunteering,King said.
“They are not the ‘me' generation of the baby boomers … or the ‘generation X,' those cynics who are disengaged,” he said. “This is the ‘we' generation.”