It’s close, very close. But more college students approve of President Bush than disapprove of him, according to a poll released yesterday by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics.
The survey of 1,206 students nationwide finds about 47 percent approve of Mr. Bush, about 46 percent disapprove and about 6 percent are unsure. There’s an uptick in collegiate conservatism as well: 33 percent say they are conservatives, up three points from 2004.
The numbers reveal a politically engaged but independent young population — with a few surprises of its own.
The poll shows, for example, that 64 percent think it’s important for the United States to be respected in the world. Fifty-one percent would tolerate further casualties in Iraq if there is significant progress made toward the country’s becoming a democracy, while 82 percent think democracy will reach the Middle East in the next 20 years.
Just 12 percent say Iraq will “never” become a democracy. Another 65 percent think the United States should commit troops to countries plagued by genocide, and 61 percent say it is America’s duty to contribute humanitarian aid.
Still, 53 percent say they oppose the Iraq war, while 74 percent say the United Nations and other countries should lead in solving international conflicts. Three-quarters say there will be another large-scale terrorist attack on the United States in the next decade.
The students are not politically ambivalent: 67 percent plan to get further involved in politics after the 2004 elections, in which 52 percent voted for Sen. John Kerry, 38 percent voted for Mr. Bush, and 4 percent voted for other candidates.
“Young people didn’t just ‘talk the talk’ on voting in 2004 — they walked the walk, turning out in even greater numbers in the last election than seniors aged 65 and older,” poll director Philip Sharp said.
By party, about 33 percent of the respondents are Democrats, about 28 percent are Republicans, and about 36 percent are independents or unaffiliated.
Using an additional 11-question “political personality test,” the poll also sets aside descriptive ideological labels for the students. That portion shows that about 43 percent are “traditional liberals” favoring Mr. Kerry, about 14 percent are “traditional conservatives” favoring Mr. Bush, about 21 percent are “religious centrists” split between the two, and about 18 percent are secular centrists — who voted for Mr. Bush by a 59 percent to 29 percent margin.
Meanwhile, 51 percent are concerned about the “moral direction” of the country, and 72 percent say religion is important in their lives, though less than one-quarter say religious values should play a more important role in government.
When asked about Social Security, seven out of 10 students fear there will be no benefits left when they retire; 52 percent favor changing the system to allow Social Security taxes to be invested in private accounts, while 46 percent favor investing contributions in the stock market, though 53 percent want Congress to provide guarantees for the future.
The complete poll can be viewed online at www.ksg.harvard.edu.