Young Voters Have Issues

Over the course of the last week, I've picked through the polling results from the recent Harvard Institute of Politics Survey of over 2,000 young voters. I've talked about Obama's lead among young voters, and McCain's deficit among the same, and about how young people are engaged at a much higher level this year than in previous years. Now I want to take a look at young voter's policy concerns.

There tend to be a few bits of conventional wisdom when it comes to young voters and policy issues. The first is that the only thing young people care about is the draft, or as Ralph Nader recently (and inaccurately) stated, the only thing that will increase youth engagement is the threat of a draft. The second is that young people are consumed by humanitarian issues like the genocide in Darfur. There are grains of truth in both statements - in 2004 there was a lot of messaging done by Rock the Vote and other groups around the draft that did in fact help spur youth turnout, and young people are disproportionately active around the issue of genocide. As with most pieces of conventional wisdom, though, these do not convey the whole truth.

The results of the Harvard IOP Survey reveal that the concerns of young voters have shifted radically since the fall of 2007. Six months ago, Iraq was the #1 issue for 37% of young Americans. Today, that number has shrunk to 20%. In March 2007, the economy was the top concern of just 5% of young people. Today it ranks as the greatest concern of 30% of young voters. The war was a motivator for youth action in 2004, but in 2008, it seems that the tanking economy will drive young people to the ballot box.

issues graph

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