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Youth Give Bush Poor Grade, Hurting Republican Hopes, Poll Says
By Heidi Przybyla
August 7, 2006

Aug. 7 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush's hopes of attracting a new generation of voters to the Republican Party may be fading, as younger Americans are far more critical of his job performance than the broader population.

A Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll of Americans age 18 to 24 found Bush's approval rating was 20 percent, with 53 percent disapproving and 28 percent with no opinion. That compares to a 40 percent approval rating among Americans of all ages in a separate Bloomberg/Times poll.

Much like Franklin Roosevelt attracted a new generation of voters with the New Deal, Bush and his administration have had high hopes of drawing younger voters to his party. He has sought to do that through policy initiatives aimed at creating an "ownership society," and public relations tactics like a Youth Convention at the party's 2004 national convention, in which his twin daughters took the stage.

Among the initiatives aimed at drawing a new generation into the Republican fold are health-care savings accounts, elimination of the so-called marriage penalty in the U.S. tax code, and Bush's proposal to create private investment accounts from a portion of Social Security payroll taxes. `Younger Americans really want to see some leadership," Bush said last year as he launched his Social Security plan.

Instead, the Social Security initiative flopped in Congress after attracting criticism from the public and lawmakers of both parties, and health-care savings accounts haven't done much to expand coverage, with only about 1 percent of the U.S. population currently participating in them.

Social Issues

Bush's 2004 re-election strategy also may have damaged his party's standing with younger voters by stressing things intended to drive religious voters concerned about social issues to the ballot box, such as opposition to gay marriage.

"The very cultural issues the president wants to use to rally his party's base are exactly the issues that are alienating younger voters," said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. "Across a broad swath of social issues, younger Americans see the administration as being out of line with what they believe."

The war in Iraq is also a major factor driving down public opinion among young voters, said Hans Riemer, political director at Rock the Vote, a group that works to get young people involved in civic life.

"Young people take it very personally," he said. "They feel like it's their generation that's been asked to sacrifice."

One poll participant, K.C. Chojnacki, an 18-year-old starting her first year in college, expressed those concerns in a follow-up interview. "I disapprove mostly because I don't agree with the war," said Chojnacki, who is from Andover, Minnesota. "We're going to have to deal with the repercussions, like having to pay for it."

Iraq Support Wanes

In October 2003, 40 percent of college students supported either sending more troops to Iraq or keeping the number of troops the same, according to a survey by Harvard University's Institute of Politics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. By March 2006, just 26 percent supported these measures, according to another poll by the same institute, which has collected data on college voters since 2000.

The Harvard surveys also showed an erosion of Republican support among college students. In the 2003 poll, 31 percent identified themselves as Republicans and 27 percent as Democrats. By 2006, 32 percent of college students said they were Democrats and 24 percent Republicans.

The Harvard polls surveyed 1,200 college students and had a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points.


David Kirby, executive director of the Washington-based America's Future Foundation, which says it exists to groom young libertarian and conservative leaders, said the president's low approval rating reflects disillusionment with politics, not Bush or the Republican Party.

"It's overly simplistic to say people hate Bush, people hate the war," Kirby said. While "Republicans could do a better job" winning over young Americans, Kirby said, "Democrats aren't offering ideological vision for the future that's exciting to young people."

Riemer cited "a lack of any real attention at the White House and Congress to issues that really do concern young people, like education and jobs."

The Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll found Bush got slightly higher approval ratings from religious young Americans than from those who consider themselves non-religious.

For example, 26 percent of those age 18 to 24 who consider themselves religious approve of the job Bush is doing, compared with 12 percent of those who say they are non-religious. The poll surveyed 811 adults aged 18-24 and 839 minors aged 12-17. It was taken June 23 to July 2 and has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

If early indications are a guide, Bush and the Republicans also have a challenge with the next wave of young voters. The poll found his approval rating was 21 percent among those age 12 to 17, with 44 percent disapproving and 35 percent having no opinion.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Heidi Przybyla in Washington at  hprzybyla@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: August 6, 2006 20:01 EDT

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