Will Young Voters Engage in Higher Numbers Next Year?

Students from the Politics and the Media class at American University who conducted the survey of college-age voters.
Students from the Politics and the Media class at American University who conducted the survey of college-age voters. (Glenn Luther -- American University)
A Project by American University Students
Thursday, November 29, 2007; 9:02 AM

Election year after election year in recent decades, candidates and the media have spent significant energy courting young voters and reporting on how they view issues and campaigns. Yet, year after year, voting data shows that the turnout of young voters has been disappointingly low.

That may be changing, as census and survey data shows that youth turnout began to rise in the 2004 and 2006 elections. This year, with young people saying in preliminary polls that the 2008 presidential campaign is an important election and with the increased role of the Internet in political organizing, the question is whether young people will translate their energy and enthusiasm to the ballot box.

In an attempt to shed light on young voters' interest in the 2008 campaign, the Politics and the Media class at American University interviewed 108 college students online from October 19 to 29, 2007. Ninety-six percent of the sample said they were going to vote in the 2008 presidential election.

And, with a year left until the election, about 82 percent said they were already registered to vote. This continues the trend that began with the 2004 election. Forty-seven percent of 18-to-24-year-olds voted in the 2004 election, up 11 points from 2000, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement. A June 2007 study of Census Department data found that the turnout rate for 18-29 year olds went from 22.5 percent in 2002 to 25 percent in the 2006 midterm elections, still lower than that the turnout rate for all ages but moving in the right direction.

Students from 75 colleges around the country responded to the American University students' online interviews.

A female senior from Bates College stressed the importance of getting out the vote. "I think voting is a privilege that many Americans take for granted," she said. "And as we have seen in recent elections every vote matters."

The final panel's political make-up was decidedly liberal (48 percent of the sample), with another 34 percent identifying themselves as moderates. Only 20 percent of the respondents identified themselves as conservatives. (An April 2007 survey of college students by Harvard University's Institute of Politics showed college students as a whole are more liberal than the population, with 51 percent calling themselves liberal or moderately liberal, 16 percent self-identified as moderate and 33 percent as conservative or moderately conservative.)

This difference was reflected when the students were asked to name which presidential candidate they would vote for if the election were held today. The students were not provided with a list candidate names. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was the most popular candidate with 27 percent, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) followed with support from 18 percent of the students; Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (D) was the only other Democratic candidate named by the respondents, earning 5 percent.

Obama supporters cited the Illinois senator's honesty and a perceived ability to tackle the issues if elected.

"I like [Obama] because he seems to want to hold people accountable for their actions," said a senior at the University of California-Berkeley who asked that her name be withheld, when asked who would get her vote.

Among Republican candidates, Rudy Giuliani led with 6 percent of the students' support, followed closely by Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul with 5 percent and 4 percent, respectively.

Interviewing Methods

Interested in finding out what's really on in college students' minds with the onset of the 2008 campaign, a group of students at American University in Washington, D.C., in cooperation with washingtonpost.com, conducted online interviews with a panel of more than 100 college students across the nation. Students voiced their thoughts on issues such as the war in Iraq, privacy and surveillance, presidential candidates, media, social issues and more.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company