Younger voters think the country is heading in the wrong direction and that President Bush does not share their priorities, but they like Bush personally and are unsure about John Kerry.
Overall, Kerry has a substantial lead among voters under thirty, a reversal of the Bush's nine-point advantage among all registered voters. In a head-to-head contest, Kerry is leading Bush by 10 points (51-41), and in a contest that includes Ralph Nader, Kerry is ahead by 6 (46-40-4).
These results came from a new poll of 18-29-year-olds (conducted September 8-13) by CBS News on behalf of MTV and the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE).
Kerry's support, however, could be described as lukewarm. A full two-thirds of his supporters harbor reservations or are voting for Kerry merely out of a greater dislike for the other guy. Less than half of all respondents like Kerry personally.
While those aren't Clintonian numbers, they might be enough, especially given young voters' negative appraisal of Bush's first term. Only 39 percent of the respondents have a favorable impression of the president, only 44 percent approve of the way he is handling his job, and more than half feel he does not share their priorities.
On the other hand, more than half of the respondents like Bush personally (including a fair percentage of Kerry voters) and his supporters are generally more enthusiastic than Kerry's. To muddle the picture even further, when asked to match the candidates to different roles, the respondents chose Bush as the preferred dad, boss and guy to hang out with, while Kerry was tapped as the better teacher and -- oh, so crucially -- slightly cooler.
Cool or not, the support for both candidates among young voters is more tepid than among voters generally. Forty percent of all Kerry's supporters "strongly favor" him, while only a third of young voters feel the same way. Similarly, nearly two-thirds of Bush's supporters "strongly favor" the president, compared to just over half of his younger supporters.
This does not appear to be a case of youthful political cynicism: 75 percent feel this is one of the most important elections in their lifetime -- if not the most -- and 85 percent say that it matters who wins. Young voters are following this election closely and nearly 8 in 10 say they definitely plan to vote. The last time voters under 30 were paying as much attention at this stage in the campaign was the 1992 battle between Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush and Ross Perot.
As in 1992, the top issues for young voters this year are the economy and jobs. Only 3 percent of respondents rated the economy as "very good," although over half think it is at least "fairly good." Almost two-thirds describe the job prospects for young people as "fair" or "poor."
Other top concerns of survey respondents were terrorism, education and safeguarding civil liberties. A majority expect some terrorist attack in the next few months. Health care, a major issue for older voters, did not appear on the survey.
Feelings about the war in Iraq are mixed, as slightly more of the respondents agreed that invading Iraq was a good thing than disagreed. There is overwhelming opposition to reinstating the military draft to provide additional soldiers to the conflict. Interestingly, young men are slightly less opposed to a draft than young women.
Somewhat surprisingly, the vice-presidential candidates don't appear to have made much of a splash. Despite the Democrats' frequent attacks on Dick Cheney, 42 percent of respondents have no opinion of the current vice president. John Edwards is even more of an unknown: 58 percent of respondents don't know enough about him to render a view.
Perhaps the most interesting numbers in the survey are that 1 in 4 of the respondents were not registered to vote and that 1 in 5 of registered voters were still undecided as to who to vote for. In a race this close, these votes and potential votes could decide the next president.