The contest for young voters has begun with President Obama and Mitt Romney both voicing their support for extending an act that would keep interest on federal student loans low. The College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which cut rates from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent, is due to expire in July.
It’s a rare point of agreement in the presidential campaign and a good place to start the 2012 conversation with 18-29 year olds, according to a new poll out by Harvard’s Institute of Politics, which conducts regular surveys of the so-called Millennials. Nearly three-quarters of all college students said their financial circumstances would be impacted by student loans, and 78 percent said they expect finding a job to be difficult.
Both campaigns are making a hard appeal to young voters Tuesday. Obama is at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill pledging to make college more affordable.
Romney’s campaign held a conference call condemning Obama’s policies. Sixty-six percent of young people voted for Obama in 2008. But “half of my generation didn’t get up and go to a job this morning,”said College Republican National Committee Chairman Alex Schriver, who was on the call.
Young voters were a key part of Obama’s winning coalition of voters in 2008, but there are fresh signs that a segment of 18-21 year olds are in play. In the past four months, Obama has grown his lead over Romney to 17 points among Millennials — though Obama remains more popular with 25- to-29 year olds than 18-to-24 year olds. Obama leads Romney among the youngest voters 41 percent to 29 percent. Among those who are 25-to-29 years old, Obama leads Romney 46 percent to 23 percent. About three-out-of-10 respondents said they did not know who they would support in November.
“The younger [Millennials] are showing themselves to be less progressive on social issues than the older part,” said Harvard Institute of Politics Polling Director John Della Volpe. “They are not as connected with the Obama movement as the older [Millennials] are.”
Harvard Institute of Politics Director Trey Grayson said views of Obama among the youngest first-time voters have been shaped by this difficult economy and have little history with his campaign. “It’s a different group of kids,” Grayson said. “These kids, who are just now voting for the first time, weren’t on the bandwagon [in 2008], and they’ve seen this economy.”
As a whole, nearly six-out-of-10 young voters ranked the economy as the most important national issue, and the same number disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy. That begs the question, can Obama excite young voters again?
In 2008, 66 percent of 18-29 year olds supported him — making the disparity between young voters and other age groups larger than in any presidential election since exit polling began in 1972, according to the Pew Research Center. Romney’s campaign is hoping to close that gap.
The Harvard survey was conducted online using Knowledge Networks from March 23 to April 9, and the overall margin of error was 1.7 percentage points.
Other recent polls show higher levels of support for Obama among young voters. According to a Washington Post-ABC News survey this month, Obama led Romney by 57 to 36 percent among Americans ages 18 to 29. The Pew Research Center found 61 percent of young voters support Obama vs. 33 percent for Romney.
Staff writer Felicia Sonmez and pollster Scott Clement contributed to this report.