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University of Iowa News Release


Oct. 21, 2008

Hawkeye Poll: younger voters could swing election but remain less engaged

Younger voters could secure Barack Obama's seat in the Oval Office, but a University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll released today shows they're less likely to make it to the polls and paying less attention to the election than older voters are.

In the national poll of 796 voters conducted Oct. 5-18, registered voters 35 or younger favored Obama over John McCain by a 26-point margin -- much more substantial than his five-point lead with voters age 36-54 and nine-point lead among those 55-70. McCain led by five points with voters 70 and over.

Eighty-four percent of the younger voters said they are absolutely certain they will vote. While that percentage is high, it's still lower than the older age groups, in which 86 to 90 percent said they would definitely vote.

"Clearly, younger voters overwhelmingly support Obama. If they show up in record numbers, they will decidedly tip the scale toward an Obama victory," said Hawkeye Poll Director David Redlawsk, associate professor of political science in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "But if they fail to turn out, the final result is likely to be very close."

Less than 40 percent of younger voters are paying close attention to the election, compared to 53 percent of those 35-54, 61 percent of those 55-69, and 72 percent of those 70 and older.

"By historical standards, the level of interest is extremely high across all ages. But those under 35 are much less likely to be tracking the election closely," Redlawsk said. "This suggests they're less engaged -- and perhaps less likely to turn out, because those who pay attention are more likely to vote."

The Hawkeye Poll is in the field Oct. 1 to Nov. 2 collecting a rolling sample of about 60 registered voters per day. Results in this release are unweighted, and the margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 3.4 percent.

Topline results are available at

Younger voters less likely to follow political issues closely

Younger voters are much less likely than older voters to say they've heard a lot about issues and people related to the election, but just as likely to follow the horserace.

Nearly 91 percent of younger voters had heard a lot about the financial crisis, compared to 97 to 98 percent of other voters. Only 77 percent had heard a lot about Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin, compared to 86 to 88 percent of older voters. Only 24 percent of younger voters were well aware of the Russia/Georgia conflict, compared to 36 to 59 percent of older voters. And, only 23 percent were aware of '60s radical Bill Ayers, to whom the McCain camp has tried to connect to Obama, compared to 38 to 47 percent of older voters.

But, more than 81 percent of younger voters had followed polls closely, which was right in line with the 79 to 87 percent of other age groups.

"Younger voters haven't paid as much attention to the issues and personalities central to the campaigns as older voters have," Redlawsk said. "Still, they're just as curious to know which candidate is ahead as any other voter is."

Web is No. 1 political news source for younger voters

Differences in awareness of the issues and stories in the campaign may be linked to differences in where the voters get their news.

TV news remains the primary source of political information for all voters except those 18-35, scoring well ahead of every other information source. Younger voters were most likely to cite the Web as their primary source for news (39 percent), followed by TV news (31 percent) and newspapers (10 percent).

Only one-third of younger voters watched TV news daily in the previous week, compared to 54 to 84 percent of older voters. Less than one-fourth of the younger voters read a paper daily, and 40 percent didn't read one at all the previous week. Thirty-six to 69 percent of older voters read a paper every day.

Younger voters make extensive use of the Internet for news, with 42 percent reading online news sites daily. This is matched, however, by those 36-54, 47 percent of whom say they read Internet news sites daily. Only 32 percent of those 55-69 and 22 percent of those 70 and over sought online news daily.

Economy is top issue for all ages of voters

The economy is the top issue affecting the vote for all age groups. More than 90 percent in every category said it is very important to their decision.

Nearly 80 percent of all voters consider the Iraq war very important. Third on the list are health care and energy policy, which are very important issues to three in four voters, followed by Social Security and Medicare at 73 percent and terrorism at 68 percent. Global warming, immigration and abortion are cited as very important to 40 to 46 percent of all voters, with gay marriage well behind at only 21 percent.

"Younger voters look almost exactly like other voters in terms of the issues they care about this year," Redlawsk said. "Part of the reason is simply that the economy has become such a critical part of the environment, pushing most all other issues away. There are two issues where younger voters vary from other age groups: They're much more likely to be concerned about global warming and, not surprisingly, much less likely to worry about Social Security."

Younger voters are feeling the pocketbook pain more than other voters, with 58 percent describing their financial situation as fair or poor. Only 43 to 49 percent of voters over age 35 described their finances that way.

Still, younger voters were the most optimistic: 72 percent expect their situation to improve in the next year, compared to only 54 percent of those age 36-54, 48 percent of those 55-69 and 37 percent of those 70 or older.

About the University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll

The University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll is directed by David Redlawsk and co-directed by Caroline Tolbert, associate professors of political science in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The poll is a teaching, research and service project of the Department of Political Science and is housed at the UI's Social Science Research Center. The university's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Office of the Provost provided funding for the poll.

For results of past Hawkeye Polls, a list of UI political experts, and trading prices for Election 2008 contracts on the Tippie College of Business' Iowa Electronic Markets, visit

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Caroline Tolbert, UI Hawkeye Poll, 319-335-2358 (office),; David Redlawsk, UI Hawkeye Poll, 319-335-2352 (office), 319-400-1134 (cell),; Nicole Riehl, UI News Services, 319-384-0070 (office), 319-430-6576 (cell),