Eight years after our \ufb01rst national survey during the Spring of 2000 which came on the heels ofthe
lowest national turnout for a presidential election in more than 50 years, we sought to understand
the drivers behind political engagement and civic participation of a new generation. We found that
while more than half of college students were engaged in some form of community service, far
fewer were engaged in politics -or even voting.
Through the attitudinal and opinion data that we have collected over the course of fourteen in-
depth editions of the Harvard University Institute of Politics\u2019 Survey on Politics and Public Service
we have seen dramatic changes in theway young Americans think about, relate to and engage in
politics. More importantly we have seen record turnout by this generation during the 2008 primary
With the central mission of the Institute of Politics being to engage and inspire young Americans
in the memory of John F. Kennedy and his legacy, we are particularly pleased that the underlying
shifts in civic participation that we noted in 2002 are not a one-time phenomenon but instead
represent the civic reawakening of a new generation.
Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas.1 Compared to our survey in the Spring of 2004 -- the year in which turnout by young voters 18 to 24 increased by 31 percent -- excitement and interest in the campaign is signi\ufb01cantly more intense.
With two razor-thin national elections in eight years, the global signi\ufb01cance of the issues at stake, a new sense of the meaning and importance of politics after September 11, 2001 and the fact that several campaigns are targeting young people through the use of Web 2.0 and social networking technology all indications are that the 29.5 million 18 to 24 year olds in America are prepared to further extend their two-cycle trend (\u201804,\u201806) of increased participation in November.
The interviewing period for this survey ofn=2,452 18 to 24 year-olds was March 11 to April 1,
2008. For most of the time the survey was in the \ufb01eld, the major political news centered around
Governor Elliot Spitzer\u2019s resignation. Other news of note during this time period includes the
collapse of Bear Stearns and unrest and protest regarding Tibet. The Reverend Jeremiah Wright
videos broke into the news on March 14, 2008. Other than the Mississippi primary which was held
on the \ufb01rst day of interviewing, no other primary or caucus was held during the interviewing period.
The IOP poll was conducted online by our research partner Harris Interactive. IOP Polling Director John Della Volpe supervised the survey group. Marina Fisher (\u201809) and Jonathan Gould (\u201910) co- chaired the student working group.
For this survey we completed n=1,230 online interviews with current undergraduates and n=1,222
online interviews with 18 to 24 year-olds who are not currently enrolled in a four-year college and
then weighted these segments and target populations so that the \ufb01nal results and totals are
representative of the overall 18 to 24 year-old population sampled (N=2,452).
51 percent male, 49 percent female;
42 percent between 18 and 20 years olds, 58 percent between 21 and 24 years old;
62 percent White, 17 percent Hispanic, 14 percent Black/African-American;
21 percent are Catholic, 15 percent Protestant, 11 percent Fundamental/ Evangelical, 3
percent Jewish, 2 percent Mormon, one percent Muslim, 12 percent another religion and 25
percent no religious preference;
37 percent say that religion is a very
important part of their life;
45 percent expect that religion will play a more important part of their life as they get older;
9 percent are married;
89 percent own a cell phone, 43 percent have a landline and 4 percent have VOIP
2-year junior or community college, 27 percent in a four-year college or university, 6 percent in graduate school, business school or professional school, and 38 percent are not enrolled in any school;
73 percent of college students attend a public institution, 27 percent a private one;
48 percent of students attend a college in an urban or city area, 31 percent in a suburb and
21 percent in a small town;
31 percent of those in college live at home with parents, 30 percent in a college dormitory,
28 percent in an apartment.
76 percent say they are registered to vote (increase of 7 points since November);
60 percent of college students have seen voter registration materials around their school
(increase of 15 points since November);
64 percent say they will vote in the 2008 general election;
40 percent consider themselves to be
politically engaged or active;
40 percent consider themselves Democrats, 25 percent Republicans and 35 percent
to 24 year olds are that they are preparing to vote in November in signi\ufb01cant, if not, record
numbers -- further extending the trend of increased participation that began in 2004 and
extended to the 2006 mid-term elections. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of eligible young voters (72%
of college students and 61% of those not in college) indicate that they will participate in the
general election, which is an increase of three percentage points (3%) since our November 2007
Notably, every measure of political engagement has increased since our last survey, strongly
indicating that young Americans are following the debate and ready to participate in November.
Young Americans who consider themselves to be politically engaged or active increased 5
percentage points, from 35 percent to 40 percent. Nearly three in four (73%) consider voting to be
a civic duty, 70 percent say that they have been following the campaign for president closely --
and a majority (56%) of 18-24 year olds said that if the campaign that they supported provided an
opportunity to volunteer in some way, they would be \u201cvery\u201d (12%) or \u201csomewhat interested\u201d (44%).
increase in youth participation compared to 2000, the percentage of college students who say that they are de\ufb01nitely voting has increased 10 percentage points (62% to 72%) and the percentage of college students who are following the campaign closely increased 11 points, from While much attention has been focused on the role that Senator Obama\u2019s campaign has had on energizing the youth vote -- most indications from this survey and others conducted by IOP Polling Director John Della Volpe are that participation in November transcends any one candidate or idea.
Approximately a third (32%) of 18 to 24 year oldswho plan to vote in November tell us that theyare
voting because it is their \u201cright and/or responsibility,\u201d 14 percent are voting to have \u201ctheirsay,\u201d 13
percent are voting \u201cfor a new direction,\u201d 11 percent are voting because they know that \u201cevery vote
counts\u201d and 10 percent are voting because they \u201ccare who the next President is.\u201d
In our March 2007 and November 2007 surveys, Senator Obama held slight leads over Senator
Clinton among 18-24 year old primary voters, while Senator Clinton maintained solid leads in most
18+ national polls during the same timeframe. In November 2007, Obama led Clinton 38 percent
to 33 percent, and in March he led her, 35 percent to 29 percent.
When 18 to 24 year olds who plan to vote for a Democrat in November (n=807) were asked
which candidate they prefer to be the party nominee -- 70 percent chose Barack Obama and 30
percent chose Hillary Clinton.
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