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The Poll Watchers

Youth Is Fleeting for Bush

By Richard Morin, Claudia Deane and Christopher Muste
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 12, 2004; 8:00 AM

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Poll Vault: [Expletive Deleted] Potty Mouths

Of course it would never happen like this, but it should: President Bush and political guru Karl Rove are enjoying a quiet evening together in the private quarters of the White House. Suddenly, Rove looks up in horror from his computer printouts and asks:

"George . . . where are the kids?"

Where, indeed. And we're not talking about Jenna Bush or her sister Barbara, but millions of other younger voters who supported Bush in 2000 but currently plan to vote for Democratic nominee John Kerry.

Surveys suggest that Bush's popularity has plummeted among 18- to 29-year-olds in the past four months, posing a new obstacle to the president's bid to win reelection and an immediate challenge to Republicans seeking to win over impressionable and lightly committed young people during their upcoming convention.

Four years ago, network exit polls found that Bush and Democrat Al Gore split the vote of 18- to 29-year-olds, with Gore claiming 48 percent and Bush getting 46 percent -- the best showing by a Republican presidential candidate in more than a decade.

But that was then. In the latest Post-ABC News poll taken immediately after the Democratic convention, Kerry led Bush 2-1 among registered voters younger than 30. Among older voters, the race was virtually tied.

Bush's problems with younger voters began months before the Democratic convention, Post-ABC polls suggest. The last time Bush and Kerry were tied among the under-30 crowd was back in April. In the five surveys conducted since then, Bush has trailed Kerry by an average of 18 percentage points.

Virtually every other major poll conducted in the past month confirms Kerry's newfound and perhaps transient popularity with voters under the age of 30. The size of this advantage varies, due in part to the relatively small number of younger voters and correspondingly large margin of sampling error in each survey.

A Newsweek Poll conducted on July 29-30 found Kerry with a 51-32 lead among 18- to 29-year-olds. The CBS News/New York Times post-convention survey of registered voters showed Kerry with a 50-31 advantage among this group.

Kerry also led among young adults in most surveys conducted during the weeks leading up to the convention. The combined data from surveys of 2,891 registered voters conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in May and June showed a 15-point Kerry lead, but its mid-July survey found the race tied. A Newsweek poll exclusively of younger voters interviewed in mid-July found Kerry with a 48-41 lead while a Post-ABC News survey put the Democrat ahead by 9 points on the eve of his party's convention.

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