Will This Midterm Election Be A Myth Buster? genre: Polispeak

Hocus Pocus

Each election, there seems to be a belief that the youth vote is going to be a deciding factor...and yet in most recent election cycles that potentiality has failed to materialize. A new survey conducted by Harvard's Institute of Politics is once again suggesting that the 18-24 voting block is poised to turn out in record numbers. What I find the most intriguing about this data is just what impact it could have on what many already believe is going to be a wave election.

A new national poll by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics (IOP), located at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, finds nearly a third (32%) of 18 to 24 year olds “definitely" plan on voting in the upcoming midterm elections, a proportion that will likely amount to the highest turnout percentage for this age group in any midterm election in the last twenty years. The poll also finds that young people continue to disapprove of the job George W. Bush is doing as President, with the President averaging a grade of “C-"on seven key issues facing America, with the lowest mark coming on his handling of the War in Iraq (D+). Finally, 18-24 year olds seem to favor a swapping of majority parties in Congress, as a majority of likely voters (52%) said they favor a Congress controlled by Democrats following the November elections.

The IOP has been conducting regular polling of America’s college students for six years highlighting key trends and issues related to politics and public service. For the first time, this fall’s IOP poll has been expanded to look at the political views of all 18-24 year olds, whether or not they are attending a four-year college or university, providing an even more comprehensive look at a demographic critical to the outcome of the 2006 and 2008 elections.

“Voter turnout by young people approached record numbers in 2004 and our polling shows 18-24 year olds are engaged and ready to show up again in 2006," said Harvard’s Institute of Politics Director Jeanne Shaheen. “Younger voters could make the difference in campaigns across the country – political parties and candidates can’t afford to ignore them."

A near-majority of young people favor total troop withdrawal from Iraq within the next year. When asked which of four different plans dealing with the war in Iraq they preferred, ranging from complete withdrawal to sending more troops to the country, nearly half (46%) of 18-24 year olds said they preferred either withdrawing all troops immediately (16%) or within the next year (30%). A full third (33%) of young people also said they preferred troop withdrawal, but not until control can be given to the Iraqis.

I've previously speculated that this election is going to result in a decisive winner and a clear loser and I see this survey further supporting that hypothesis. Here's my reasoning. Polling indicates that the country is in an anti-incumbent mood, that they feel the party in power has failed in their duties, that the war in Iraq has been poorly managed and may be potentially unwinnable, and that the Republican Party has abused power and succumbed to corruption.

Standing in opposition to this data is a number of anecdotal beliefs (based upon well documented historical successes) regarding the political prowess of the GOP and specifically Karl Rove. Amongst these beliefs are the superior GOP get out the vote machine, the ability to use national security and the fear of terrorism to procure votes, values wedge issues like gay marriage and abortion that motivate evangelical voters, and a better discipline in framing issues and holding fast to established positions.

So the question remains what will actually happen in this midterm election. Consistent with my belief that this election will be decisive, one of the above arguments is going to prevail and that means one party is going to win big and one is going to lose big. Polls and statistics (including this new survey suggesting 18-24 year olds will vote in record numbers) would support the belief that the Democrats are poised to win big. History suggests that the GOP will replicate their past success and win big (by overcoming the odds and not losing) despite the negative polling and statistical data.

I simply can't imagine a scenario that would be viewed as a wash given the huge divide between these two very different arguments; therefore I presume one is going to be proven very wrong. Given the fears being expressed by numerous Democrats and the confidence being exuded by Karl Rove and the President...all seemingly in spite of tangible evidence, something has to give next Tuesday. With that said, this election seems to have mythical attributes. If I'm right, November 7th is destined to flesh out fact from fiction...and like most mythical battles, one player will be vanquished and one will be vindicated.

Daniel DiRito | November 1, 2006 | 3:21 PM
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