Poll: Young Pa. Voters Back Obama, Like McCain's Experience

This story was written by Andrew Young, U-WIRE
Pennsylvania college students overwhelmingly back Sen. Barack Obama in the Democratic and national races, but view Sen. John McCain as the best candidate with the right experience to be president, according to the results of a CBS News / UWIRE poll released Friday.

The Arizona Republican was also seen by students as "very likely" to be an effective Commander-in-Chief. He leads both Democratic candidates on this measure. Students see Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., as the candidate most unlikely to be effective in this role.

Seventy-two percent of Pennsylvanian students who are registered voters said McCain had the necessary experience to be president. Comparably, 64 and 63 percent of students said Obama and Clinton have the right experience, respectively.

McCain's support came in spite of the fact that more than half of young voters surveyed - 54 percent - said the 71-year-old did not care about young voters.

CBS News and UWIRE, a news service powered by student journalists at more than 800 colleges, collaborated on the poll to investigate the political views of young voters -- many of whom are voting for the first time in a presidential election.

"Young voters have already made a big impact on this election, and we expect that to continue as the campaign progresses," said Ben French of UWIRE.

The prolonged nature and at-times negative tenor of the Democratic campaign has sharpened student opinion about their preferred candidates in this key battleground state.

Among likely Democratic voters, Pennsylvania college students overwhelmingly preferred Obama to Clinton 71 to 28 percent. Obama's support transcended gender lines, as he captured 80 percent and 65 percent of male and female voter support, respectively. Three out of four likely student voters said they would be voting in the Democratic primary - which will give the winner momentum as the stretch run of contests approach.

Students backed both Democratic candidates by a majority over McCain, with Obama winning 71 percent and Clinton 58 percent in a November matchup against the Arizona senator.

The closer Clinton-McCain contest was due in large part to a shift among young male voters - who were split 50-50 between McCain and Clinton, but supported Obama by a 67-33 percent margin. Clinton also lost young female voters in a McCain-Clinton matchup, but on a much smaller scale.

Obama's supporters were especially enthusiastic, with 61 percent of his backers saying they like their candidate "a great deal better" than Clinton. On the Clinton side, 42 percent of likely voters prefer the former first lady "a great deal better" than Obama.

Nearly two-thirds of Obama supporters - 63 percent - said they would be somewhat or very dissatisfied if the Illinois Democrat did not win the nomination. Fifty-nine percent of Clinton backers would be satisfied with an Obama nomination.

Obama was seen by students as the most likely to care "a lot" about students (48 percent) and unite the country (75 percent). Clinton received less than half as much support on those topics -- 23 percent of students said she cares "a lot" and 36 percent thought she could unite the country. McCain polled even worse on those metrics, with 10 percent saying he cares "a lot" and 31 percent believing he could unite the country.

Following one of the hot topics of the campaign trail in recent weeks, students surveyed believed racism was a more serious problem in the U.S. than sexism, although a majority said a woman candidate "faces more obstacles in a presidential campaign."

Students were more comfortable than older voters with a diverse leader, as a clear majority said America was ready for a women president (71 percent) and a black president (80 percent), numbers that ar significantly higher than the national percentages from a March 2008 CBS News national poll.

Nearly nine in 10 students registered to vote said they are paying attention to the campaign, and nearly a quarter had attended a campaign event. Students said they got a lot of their political information online, and two-thirds of those surveyed had visited a candidate's Web page. A small number had looked up the candidates on Facebook (29 percent) and MySpace (15 percent), perhaps showing that efforts by the candidates on popular peer-to-peer networks are ringing hollow

The economy was the top issue among students, getting nearly twice the emphasis as the Iraq war (35 to 18 percent). Health care (14 percent), education (13 percent) and the environment (10 percent) were secondary concerns. Obama was seen as the candidate with the best plan to deal with almost all of the top issues, not surprising given his overall support in the poll. Only those who named immigration as their top concern picked McCain as the candidate with the best plan.

The poll was conducted online in coordination with selected universities across the Pennsylvania, with 2,366 students from a random sample responding between April 3-14. Results have a margin of error of 2 percent.

© 2008 U-WIRE via U-WIRE