By Susan Milligan, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama may have lost Pennsylvania, but Harvard's Institute of Politics had some encouraging news today: young voters overwhelmingly prefer him to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
The institute, which has been conducting extensive surveys of the youth vote for eight years, found that 70 percent of Democrats ages 18 to 24 favor Obama, compared to 30 percent for Clinton. The margins were similar regardless of whether or not the voters attended four-year colleges.
Obama's strength on university campuses is evident on the campaign trail and has contributed to his wins in many states. In Iowa, for example, the under-30 vote tripled, and that support helped him to an upset win in the caucuses.
"The youth vote has been central to [determining] who's going to be the next president of the United States, and who's going to be the nominee,'' said Jim Leach, director of the IOP and a former Republican congressman from Iowa.
"We may be in the midst of a civic re-awakening of a new generation,'' he said, citing statistics showing steady, dramatic growth in turnout among young voters since 2000.
Both Democratic contenders come out ahead in head-to head matches against Arizona Senator John McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee, among voters 18 to 24, but Obama does better than Clinton.
The IOP poll showed that among young voters, Obama would best McCain by a 50 percent to 29 percent margin, with four percent going for independent Ralph Nader and 17 percent undecided. If Clinton were the nominee, she would beat McCain by a 41 percent to 34 percent margin, with seven percent supporting Nader and 18 percent undecided.
A big turnout among young voters could be critical for either Democrat, especially in states where McCain can attract older, conservative Democrats and conservative--leaning Independent voters. But John Della Volpe, director of the poll, said there was no indication from the survey that young Obama or Clinton supporters would stay home if their choice were not the nominee.
And while Obama has inspired many young people to register and vote in the primaries this year, the upward trend in youth participation in politics has been building since 2000, he said. "This is a lot bigger'' than Obama, he said.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.