National poll doesn't reflect Nebraska students, profs say
Closer presidential race expected than Harvard poll shows
By Amber Brozek
Special to CNN
Editor's Note: Campus Vibe is a feature that provides student perspectives on the 2004 election from selected colleges across the United States. This week's contributor is Amber Brozek, a reporter at the Daily Nebraskan, the student newspaper at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
LINCOLN, Nebraska (CNN) -- A national poll of college undergraduates shows students favor Democratic Sen. John Kerry over President George W. Bush. But does it reflect campuses in a conservative state like Nebraska?
The Harvard University study released last Thursday showed 52 percent of students said they would vote for Kerry while 39 percent said they favored Bush.
Political science professors at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln don't think there's that big of a margin at their school.
John Hibbing, a UNL political science professor, said the difference on the national level might be a result of younger students being supportive of certain issues such as same-sex marriage, which the president opposes.
But at UNL, he said he feels that young people "tend toward the conservative" side.
UNL political science professor Elizabeth Theiss-Morse has done several polls in class on which candidates students support. Although the surveys had a limited range of students, they were pretty evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, with several students supporting independent candidates.
"But clearly there is strong conservative and Bush support," Theiss-Morse said of UNL students. "I would assume strong support for Bush. Bush would probably win the vote here because Nebraska is a Republican state."
Chris Peterson, executive director of the Nebraska Republican Party, said the party did not know how many registered Republicans were on campus. But, he said, more students are Republican based on statewide registration numbers of that age group.
The Harvard poll, which surveyed 1,202 college undergraduates during the second week of October, showed a large gender gap -- 58 percent of women said they favored Kerry compared with 39 percent for Bush. Men were split on the two candidates.
Hibbing said the results of the survey are consistent with national statistics. Women, he said, especially those who are unmarried, are more likely to be Democrats.
Stephanie Gaulin, a sophomore secondary education major and member of the UNL Young Democrats said she thinks students are looking for a presidential candidate who is going to make changes and that's why they support Kerry.
Gaulin said women voters are attracted to Kerry's standing on reproductive rights and "not just choice" and higher pay for women, she said. They are also attracted to Kerry's stances on health care, education and national security.
"Kerry's policies seem to be more appealing toward women," she said, "because (Kerry) is more concerned with social issues."
Theiss-Morse said she was surprised that males were split evenly between Kerry and Bush, because typically males are more supportive of Republican candidates.
Hibbing said that he was surprised by a disparity in the results. While the poll showed more women favoring Kerry, findings on voter attitudes weren't consistent with what Democratic women support. Women responding to the poll ranked moral values as their top concern followed by terrorism and the war in Iraq.
Typically, Hibbing said, Republicans rank moral issues as one of their top concerns.
No matter who wins the student vote, student participation is up.
Harvard survey results showed students are much more interested in politics this year, more likely to identify with a party and more likely to vote.
Katie Weichman, president of the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska, said student government sponsored a number of voter registration drives and registered several hundred students on campus this fall.
How many of those newly registered voters will turn out on Tuesday?
Hibbing said although it's hard to gauge, he thinks college voter turnout will be much higher; with the election being so polarized, students want to have a say by voting.
"Especially in issues such as the war in Iraq," Hibbing said. "The issue really hits home here."
Theiss-Morse agreed: "With the closeness of the race, I think people are paying more attention than usual. Closer races increase participation."
Peterson said he wasn't sure how many students would vote in the election.
"I think all demographic groups will vote in higher numbers," he said.