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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, June 24, 2024

New poll confirms generational shift, strong support for Obama among young voters

With a fresh poll conducted by Rock the Vote showing that potential voters between the ages of 18 and 29 favor Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) 56 to 29 percent, the proof is in the pudding: Obama continues to cash in big-time on young people, dominating the demographic in a way that is largely unprecedented.

"It's a new phenomenon," said Peter Levine, who serves as research director for the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service and director of the college's Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). "In '04, students voted for Kerry by a much smaller margin ... It wasn't at all clear that he was even going to win the college student vote."

In 2004, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) eventually grabbed 54 percent of the youth vote to President George W. Bush's 44. In 2000, the margin was almost insignificant, with Al Gore winning over 47 percent of young people and Bush 46 percent.

Looking further back to the presidency of Ronald Reagan, America's young voting population was even shown to favor the Republican Party: Reagan earned a hefty 59 percent of the youth vote when he won the 1984 presidential election. By the end of Reagan's administration in 1989, 37 percent of registered young voters identified themselves as Republicans. Today, that number sits at 28 percent.

Obama's reign in youth polls today begs the question: Are young voters simply becoming more liberal, or is Obama just extraordinarily magnetic?

Alongside a pronounced adverse reaction to the Bush presidency, Obama's popularity with college-age kids, it seems, stems from a combination of factors.

"In '04, college students, when they voted for Kerry, were mainly voting against Bush," Levine said. "I think Obama is more inspiring to a significant number of college students, and I think a piece of that is actually his résumé, because many college students have been involved in community service."

"They get that and respect it, when it might have been more mysterious to older people," he added.

Obama has managed to tie the issue of community service to something that is of critical importance to young voters in a weak economy: the affordability, or lack thereof, of higher education in America. Along with his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), Obama is looking to ease tuition burdens with his proposed American Opportunity Tax Credit, a refund to eligible students in exchange for 100 hours of community service.

"It's something that I really think embodies what Barack Obama understands we understand," said junior Shana Hurley, president of the Tufts Democrats. "It's just this really great idea that the government's investing in you, and you're investing in your community, which is awesome."

The appeal -- or at least the prominence -- of Obama's image is undeniable. With T-shirts in popular retail chains sporting his face and droves of celebrities proclaiming their support for the young senator, Obama's reach has been extended by his role as a superstar.

"I think the McCain ads this summer that tried to tie Obama to celebrities were a reaction to the idea that youth are so strongly for Obama, and youth are tied to celebrities," Levine said.

According to Levine, McCain appealed more strongly to youth voters during the 2000 election cycle.

"In 2000, when he ran for president, he clearly had a generational appeal to young people ... There was something about his style they liked, straight talk," Levine said. "I don't think that's coming across this time."

Coupled with the image of McCain as the "old man," Obama represents something entirely novel for those who are, even at young ages, jaded by political marks left by the Bush administration.

"About six years ago, young people started to increasingly gravitate toward Democrats. What's accelerated this in this election cycle is the prospect of having an African American president, having a young president," Political Science Professor Kent Portney said. "[Young voters] are being pulled [to] some things by the Democrats and being pushed away by some things by the Republicans."

But the novelty of Obama and his campaign does little to sway the seemingly rare young voters who hold deeply rooted conservative beliefs.

For the Tufts Republicans, the choice to go against the dominant political lean is based on an ideology that must be held onto tightly in a liberal academic environment.

"[Being a republican college student in New England] requires you, as a conservative, to be more informed about the issues and more committed to your ideology, because if you're not, you'd want to go with the flow," said sophomore Michael Hawley, president of the Tufts Republicans.

For both young Democrats, who are growing stronger in numbers, and the weaning number of young Republicans, getting to the polls is critical come Nov. 4.

The shifting of political leanings among young voters "really changes the dynamics" of the race, Levine said.

For Hawley, who acknowledges the grim chances Republicans will have in Massachusetts on Election Day, voting is still a priority.

"There is absolutely no hope in Massachusetts voting red," he said. "[But] I feel like I would lose my [license] to complain about President Barack Obama if I didn't take the time to vote against him."

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