2022 election survey: Projected turnout decreases, Biden remains popular

Student voters show support for the president despite mixed reactions to his administration’s handling of key issues.

by Taylor Haber | 10/28/22 5:25am

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by Divya Kopalle / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

This article is featured in the 2022 Homecoming special issue.

With the 2022 midterm elections less than two weeks away, The Dartmouth polled students on their political leanings, stances on national issues and positions on candidates for office. The survey found a significant drop in expected voter turnout among students compared to 2020. Additionally, a clear majority of students approved of President Biden, though they had mixed reactions about his administration’s response to a number of national issues; a greater majority of students said the president should not seek a second term. Students ranked abortion and climate change as their two top voting priorities. And Democratic candidates in New Hampshire’s congressional and gubernatorial races outpaced their Republican opponents in terms of student support. 

Student voting enthusiasm has dropped since 2020.

Dartmouth students’ political affiliations have remained largely unchanged over the past two years, with 58% of respondents identifying as Democrats, 9% as Republicans and 26% as independents. None of the three major affiliations deviated by more than 3 points since 2020.

Students’ intentions to vote, however, have shifted drastically. In 2020, The Dartmouth’s poll in the run up to the presidential election found that only 2.5% of students planned on not casting a ballot. This year, the number of students who considered themselves either “somewhat unlikely” or “very unlikely” to vote jumped to 12%. Across party lines, 94% of Democrats and 96% of Republicans said they were likely to vote this November, while only 78% of independents said the same.

The election itself is also seemingly not as prescient for student voters as compared to two years ago — 79% of students either “somewhat” or “strongly disagreed” with the statement that “the 2022 midterm elections is a common topic of conversation among my friends.” Two years ago, 80% of students had instead agreed with that sentiment.

Students approve of Biden’s performance, but want someone else in the White House in 2024.

As the president approaches the halfway mark of his first term, students generally approve of President Joe Biden; 62% of respondents said they approved of the president, while 35% disapproved. Among Democrats, the president’s approval and disapproval ratings stood at 79% and 19%, respectively, while Republicans held at a nearly-opposite margin of 19% and 81%. Independents split most evenly in their approval for the president, at 44% and 51%.

When asked to rate the president’s performance from one to five on seven key issues — COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, climate change and the environment, healthcare, foreign policy and abortion rights — students offered less clear insight. The president earned his highest marks with his response to COVID-19 recieving an average of 3.20, while his lowest issues, the economy and abortion rights, scored 2.63, respectively.

Despite the president’s support among students, a greater number of respondents — 72% — said that Biden should not run for a second term in 2024. By party affiliation, 89% of Republicans, 71% of independents and 70% of Democrats indicated that Biden should step aside in the next presidential race. 

Government professor Joseph Bafumi said that Biden’s lack of support — especially among such a liberal-leaning cohort — is “historically unique,” but said he did not find the results surprising due to the president’s age. Biden, who is 79, is the oldest president in American history.

Abortion and climate change are among the top voting issues for students, while judicial appointments, COVID-19 and crime are the least important.

Students were able to select from a list of 12 issues as many topics as they considered to be “very important” to their vote. Respondents listed abortion (74%), climate change (72%) and healthcare (56%) as the three topics with the greatest impact on their voting priorities. 

The three highest-ranked issues are liberal priorities, two of which are aligned with Democratic students’ top choices; none of Republican students’ top three issues placed as prominently. 

By party affiliation, Democrats rated the three most important issues to their ballot as climate change (85%), abortion (82%) and issues around race, ethnicity and sexual orientation (62%). Independents ranked abortion and climate change as their two top issues as well, at 69% and 67% respectively, though the economy garnered the third-most support with 59%. Contrastingly, Republicans listed their most pressing issues as the economy (83%), crime (54%) and education (51%). 

The three issues which respondents overall ranked as least important on average, regardless of party affiliation, were judicial appointments (31%), COVID-19 (20%) and crime (18%).

In light of recent political developments, Bafumi said he was “not surprised” by abortion’s top ranking among students, citing the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — which nullified federal abortion protections enshrined by Roe v. Wade. Students had an overwhelmingly negative reaction to Dobbs, with 85% of respondents either “somewhat” or “strongly” disapproving of the ruling. Only 12% of respondents indicated that they favored the Court’s decision.

Ideologically, students split nearly the same on their abortion stance as they did with the Dobbs ruling. 84% of students considering themselves pro-choice or “pro-choice with some exceptions” and 14% as pro-life or “pro-life with some exceptions.”

Democratic candidates in New Hampshire hold advantages up and down the ballot.

Students also answered questions about their voter registration, with 36% stating they were registered to vote in New Hampshire and 59% being registered to vote out of state.

In New Hampshire’s gubernatorial and congressional races, eligible respondents favored Democratic candidates by wide margins. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., amassed 85% against retired Gen. Don Bolduc’s 11%. In New Hampshire’s second congressional district, Rep. Ann McLean Kuster ’78, D-N.H. earned the support of 83% of students, whereas her challenger, Bob Burns, R-N.H. earned 11%. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu attracted 17% of Dartmouth students’ votes, while his opponent, Tom Sherman, D-N.H., earned 79%. 

In some instances, there were indications that students intended to split their tickets, whereby voters cast their ballots for candidates of more than one party. Of respondents, 6% of Democrats — all of whom said they would vote for Hassan and Kuster — also said they planned on voting for Sununu. No Republicans in the survey indicated that they would vote for Democratic candidates in any of New Hampshire’s marquee races. 

Independents showed the greatest inclination to split their tickets, with 12% favoring Sununu and 79% preferring Sherman in the governor’s race. For Congress, Bolduc earned 5.85% of respondents’ support and Burns took 5.08%, while their Democratic opponents, Hassan and Kuster, received 89% and 79%, respectively.

Bafumi said that Sununu’s outsized cross-party support was likely the result of the governor’s perception as a moderate and the strong position of the state heading into the November election. He added that split-ticket voting has declined in recent years largely due to one factor: polarization. 

Methodology Notes:

From Oct. 11-16, The Dartmouth fielded an online survey of the Dartmouth student body on their view of the 2022 midterm election. The survey was sent out to 4597 undergraduates through their school email addresses. 361 responses were recorded, resulting in a 7.8% response rate. Using administrative data from the College’s Office of Institutional Research, responses were weighted by gender, class year and race/ethnicity. Weighting was done through cell-based demographic upscaling. Survey results have a margin of error +/- 4.95%.

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