HARVARD GAZETTE ARCHIVES
College students support Bush
Set aside fears of untruthfulness
By Alvin Powell
Harvard News Office
A majority of college students say President George Bush is doing a good job even though they think his administration isn't being entirely truthful about Iraq, a new Institute of Politics (IOP) poll shows.
The survey, conducted Oct. 3-12, is the latest in an ongoing series of IOP polls on college students' political attitudes. The poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percent, showed that 61 percent of college students approved of Bush's job performance, about the same as in the last poll, conducted in April.
Over the same period, other national polls have shown that the general public's opinion of Bush has declined rapidly, dropping from 65 percent approval to 53 percent approval.
The IOP poll's most surprising finding is that the president's job approval rating among college students has held steady even though 87 percent said they believe members of the Bush administration are either "mostly not telling the truth" or "hiding some things" concerning the situation in Iraq.
Further, about a one-third of students, 32 percent, say their trust in the president has gone down over the past year, almost double the 18 percent who say their trust in Bush has gone up. A majority of students also feel that the United States should withdraw troops from Iraq, in contrast to the minority of the general public that feels the same.
Students also share the general public's concern about the economy, with 71 percent saying it will be very or somewhat difficult to find a job when they graduate. That number has held steady since April.
These contradictory findings have an explanation in later answers to questions about which qualities they admire in the president, according to pollster John Della Volpe. Della Volpe, whose firm has been contracted by the IOP to conduct the polls, said students show a strong preference for leadership and experience, which they feel they've been getting from Bush. That outweighs the president's actions on any one issue, including as central an issue as Iraq.
"It is a contradiction," Della Volpe said. "It appears to be based on student concerns surrounding the leadership qualities of the president rather than on specific issues."
In a head-to-head matchup against an unnamed Democrat, Bush beats that candidate by five points, but 18 percent remain undecided. Among Democratic presidential contenders, students support Connecticut U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, at 16.8 percent, with Vermont Gov. Howard Dean coming in second at 15.5 percent. A large number, 31 percent, remain undecided about the Democratic presidential primary.
Don't take students for granted
Della Volpe and two student leaders of the poll said that other findings show that politicians shouldn't take student votes - or lack of votes - for granted. Conventional political wisdom is that students aren't consistent voters and don't turn out in large numbers. The poll says that today's students may be different. More than two-thirds say they're registered to vote and 82 percent say they will "definitely" or "probably" vote in 2004.
The poll shows that students are already engaged in their communities. A majority, 65 percent, is already involved in community service activities, and 64 percent say they're "likely" to work on political campaigns if asked.
The poll, which has been taken since April 2000, also shows that students' attitudes toward elected officials have improved, which may indicate a greater willingness to participate. The percentage who agree with the statement "elected officials seem to be motivated by selfish reasons" declined from 74 percent to 64 percent. The percentage who agree with the statement "political involvement rarely has any tangible results" declined from 51 percent to 34 percent over that same period.
"We'd like to see the myth dispelled that students are apathetic, uninformed, and inactive," said Harvard College junior Genevieve Sheehan.
David King, associate professor in public policy at the KSG, said the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks may be at the heart of the improving opinion of political service. The attacks, he said, affected this generation of high school and college students deeply, comparing their commitment to public and community service to that of the World War II generation.
"This [9/11] has rocked young people," King said.