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Poll: Obama Holds 20-pt Lead Over McCain Among Young Voters

By Maggie Barrett

Young voters prefer Barack Obama to John McCain by a 20-point margin, according to the AU Polling Analysis of Young Voters in the 2008 Election, a joint project by students in American University’s School of Communication, USA Today, and Gallup. 

When asked what they consider to be the most important issue this election, young voters show the most concern about the economy. Creating jobs for young people and improving access to affordable health care come in at a tie for second most-important issue.

Other findings include:

  • Young people are significantly more likely to have a personal connection to Obama. They would rather have a beer with him, learn from him (have as a teacher) , work for him (have as a supervisor), and receive advice from him. Yet, when asked whose private diary they'd like to read, more young voters responded with "McCain's."
  • John McCain’s strength is his ability to deal with Iraq and Afghanistan, but even on this issue he is tied with Barack Obama as the candidate young people prefer.
  • Even though young voters highly favor Obama, not all of them are ready to cast their ballots for him. Sixty-six percent of conservatives said they would vote for McCain, while 73 percent of liberals said they would vote for Obama.

  • When asked who had the most influence on their political views, 18 to 29 year-olds were slightly more likely to cite their parents than friends, professors, religious leaders, celebrities, and political commentators.
  • Young people are divided on who will be harmed most financially in the long-run by the economic crisis this fall, with 45 percent saying Americans under 30 and 52 percent saying Americans over 30.

This analysis, published in the On Politics blog of, was conducted by students in Dotty Lynch’s class, Election 2008: Politics, Polling, and the Youth Vote. The analysis centered around two surveys: one conducted September 18 through 29 with USA Today, Gallup, and MTV which focused primarily on candidate perceptions and political media, and one conducted October 13 through 19 with USA Today and Gallup, which placed more of an emphasis on the issues important to young people.

The class worked with Jim Norman, USA Today polling editor, to develop a series of questions which were put on the USA Today/Gallup poll. USA Today and Gallup provided the data sets and topline reports for the students to analyze.  Some of the poll questions were formed after observing students’ answers to focus groups. The class formed three focus groups and discussed the main issues concerning young people today. Topics ranged from character traits of the two candidates to economic issues, such as finding a job after graduation.

The executive summary was a collaborative effort by the students who used their data analysis and writing skills to create the piece. Students were able to experience what pollsters and analysts do on a day-to-day basis by examining the findings and selecting the best results to highlight in the written report. The data was also translated into graphics, which accompanied the report.  Students in Lynne Perri’s Visual Strategies class, also in AU’s School of Communication, participated in the focus groups as well, and provided several of the charts appearing in the report. The students’ charts were published with the analysis on 

Students in both classes had a chance to apply their knowledge to projects associated with the class work, ranging from data analysis to press-release writing. To continue their hands-on experience with the polling process, two students will be working with USA Today’s polling editor on election night and other students will conduct exit surveys in numerous locations around the Washington, D.C., metro area on Tuesday, November 4.

Lynch, a political consultant for CBS News, has covered 11 presidential campaigns, 16 national political conventions, and 18 presidential and vice-presidential debates as a professional pollster and journalist.  She is also an executive-in-residence in AU’s School of Communication. Her class has focused on the youth vote in this election through designing surveys and questions, analyzing the data, and examining the role of the young voters in the election process. Guest speakers included Jim Norman, polling editor at USA Today, Democratic pollster Geoff Garin, Republican pollster Linda DiVall, and’s Mark Blumenthal.