Poll: Bush leads on university campuses nationwide

by Jenna Farleigh | 11/5/03 6:00am

Contrary to what the ubiquity of Howard Dean posters on campus may suggest, a recent poll of college students taken by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University revealed that college students nationally still favor President George Bush over Democratic candidates in the 2004 presidential race.

The poll, released by the Institute of Politics in October 2003, found that 61 percent of American college students approve of the president's job performance. This number is significantly higher than the national approval rating for Bush, which lags about ten points behind.

In dramatic contrast with the findings of the Harvard poll, a survey of Dartmouth students taken by The Dartmouth last week shows that among Dartmouth students and faculty the approval rating of Bush is much lower, a mere 22 percent.

Prominent local Republicans offered several explanations for the difference.

James Baehr '05, the chair of Students For Bush, attributed the disparity between student opinions at Dartmouth and those nationally to Democratic campaigns here.

"Bush is less popular at Dartmouth than elsewhere due to the substantial presence of Democratic campaigns on campus for the New Hampshire primary," Baehr said. He believes that as the Bush campaign picks up heat in the upcoming year, approval ratings on campus should climb.

Nancy Merrill, a New Hampshire Republican National Committee representative, agreed. She believes that the Democratic primary may be driving a lot of internal political discussion at Dartmouth, which in turn is intensifying Democratic approval.

Tory Fodder '05, a member of Students For Bush, attributed this dramatic difference to a combination of geographical issues and Ivy League schools attracting more liberals than other institutions.

The Harvard poll also indicated that despite the 12 percent decrease in Bush's approval rating in the general population over recent months, undergraduate students nationally seem to have remained consistent in their approval of Bush.

Michael Ellis '06, vice chair of Dartmouth's Students for Bush, who also plans to work for the Bush campaign full time in the next year, attributed this phenomenon to the idea that young people are more interested in economic policy, an issue he said Bush is strong in.

Despite indicating Bush's popularity on college campuses nationally, the Harvard poll also revealed that undergraduate voters are highly independent, with an astonishing 38 percent registered as unaffiliated or Independent.

The poll also suggested that though Bush may be the favorite candidate now, many college students have grown wary about his policy in Iraq. One-third of students reported that their trust in Bush has gone down over the last year, and 48 percent of students believed that troops should be withdrawn from Iraq.

Ellis said he found it difficult to explain the discrepancy between Bush's approval rating among students and the sentiment that troops should be withdrawn from Iraq.

"It may be due to the fact that most military servicemen are disproportionately young," Ellis said. "Most college students know people who are in the military. Many students may even fear the draft."

The general undergraduate belief that troops should be withdrawn from Iraq may thus be attributable to a peculiar self interest rather than reflective of general disapproval of Bush, Ellis said.

Baehr, Fodder and Ellis all said that Bush's faith-based initiatives and proposed Social Security reform may be particularly appealing to younger voters and may also be part of the reason for Bush's high approval rating amongst college students nationally.

The Harvard poll also suggested that in general undergraduate votes are very much up for grabs in 2004. Eighteen percent of college students were undecided on how they will vote and the plurality of college students were undecided on the Democratic nomination.