Poll: Young Voters Favor Kerry

John Kerry has improved his standing among young voters recently, raising the stakes on the eventual turnout of this closely watched group.

Among all likely voters, President Bush maintains a slight lead over Kerry, 51 percent to 46 percent, in the latest ABC News tracking poll, the same as it's been the past two days. But Kerry has a sizable 57 percent to 38 percent lead among young voters, age 18 to 29.

That's much different than in the 2000 election, when young voters divided pretty much like everyone else -- 48 percent for Al Gore, 46 percent for Bush. If they stay in Kerry's corner, and turn out in large numbers, it could make the difference this year.

Antipathy toward Bush -- rather than enthusiasm for Kerry -- looks to be a significant factor in young voters' preferences. By 59 percent to 38 percent, young likely voters disapprove of the way Bush is handling his job. All likely voters, by contrast, now split, 48 percent to 50 percent.

Vote Preference and Bush Job Approval
18-29 year-olds All Likely Voters
Bush38% 51
Kerry57 46
Nader3 1
Approve38 50
Disapprove59 48

Ideology also plays a role -- young adults are 11 points more likely than older likely voters to describe themselves as liberals. But pure partisanship is not the cause, since young adults are no more likely than their elders to identify themselves as Democrats.

As noted, it's also not enthusiasm: Kerry in fact lags in enthusiasm among young people as he does among all likely voters. Just 35 percent of young people who support Kerry are "very enthusiastic" about his candidacy; by contrast, 55 percent of young voters who prefer Bush are very enthusiastic about him. (To expand the sample of young voters, much of this analysis is based on data aggregated from daily tracking polls since Oct. 1.)

Sampling, data collection and tabulation for this poll were done by TNS.


That soft enthusiasm about Kerry raises two questions. One is the constancy of young adults' support; they have fairly consistently favored Kerry over Bush in ABC News tracking data since Oct. 1, but by varying margins; his lead now is the biggest it's been. Another is the question of turnout: Low enthusiasm can indicate a lack of motivation to get to the polls.

There are turnout questions. Young likely voters account for 15 percent of all likely voters in this poll, which is close to their turnout, 17 percent, in 2000 and 1996 alike. They accounted for a bit more voters, 21 percent of the total, in the 1992 exit poll.

But first they have to get to the polls. At this point, about a quarter of 18- to 29-year-old likely voters say they don't know where their polling place is (and very few say they've already voted or plan to vote absentee). Polling-place knowledge is higher among older likely voters.

Know Location of Polling Place
Age GroupYes No
18-2973% 24
30-3982 14
40-4988 10
50-6489 7
65+87 6


Young voters are about equally divided on the top issue in their vote for president -- Iraq and the economy -- and are less likely than voters overall to cite terrorism as their top issue.

Twenty-seven percent of young voters choose Iraq as No. 1; 25 percent say it's the economy, and 14 percent pick terrorism. Iraq and the economy are also the top two issues for likely voters overall.

Most Important Issues
18-29 Older
Iraq27% 24
Economy25 23
Terrorism14 23
Education9 4
Health Care8 11
Other16 12

The draft is another issue. As reported in Wednesday's tracking analysis, younger voters are more opposed to a possible draft than likely voters overall. And 40 percent of young voters think Bush would impose a draft, while only 24 percent think Kerry would. (Bush has said he would not re-impose a draft.)

On candidate attributes, young voters look similar to all likely voters. They give a slight edge to Kerry as the candidate who understands people like them, but the lead to Bush on taking clear stands on the issues and strong leadership.

Bush-Kerry Among Likely Voters
18-29 Older
Understands40-50% 45-46
Clear Stands58-34 55-36
Strong Leader57-35 56-36
More Honest45-40 48-40


This poll was conducted Oct. 17-20 among a random national sample of 2,401 adults, including 2,123 registered voters and 1,500 likely voters. The results have a 2.5-point error margin for the likely voter sample. ABC News and "The Washington Post" are sharing data collection for this tracking poll, then independently applying their own models to arrive at likely voter estimates. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

Click here for PDF version with full questionnaire and results.

See previous analyses in our Poll Vault.