(Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama holds a 17- point lead over Mitt Romney among younger voters, a nationwide survey by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics shows.
Obama is preferred over the former Massachusetts governor by 43 percent to 26 percent among Americans ages 18 to 29, a group often referred to as millennials because they came of age in this millennium. Almost a third in the age group are undecided.
In 2008, voters 18 to 29 supported Obama 66 percent to 32 percent for Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona, exit polls showed.
“We’re seeing an uptick in support among America’s younger voters for the president, for his job performance and for his electoral chances in November,” Trey Grayson, the institute’s director, told reporters on a conference call today. “However, in potentially good news for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, the president continues to struggle with key segments of the millennial demographic, even those which helped power him to victory over Senator McCain in 2008.”
The Harvard survey found that Obama’s job approval among all the millennials sampled has risen 6 percentage points, to 52 percent, since a comparable poll four months ago. Among Hispanics in this age group, the president’s approval has jumped 14 percentage points, to 66 percent. Among white millennials, Obama’s approval is 41 percent.
The survey, taken online March 23 through April 9, included 3,096 randomly selected participants and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.7 percentage points. Voters 18 to 29 represented 18 percent of the electorate in 2008, according to exit polls.
Obama’s lead over Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is smaller among those closest to college age, the Harvard survey shows. Among those 18 to 24, he leads Romney by 12 percentage points. For those 25 to 29, the advantage grows to 23 percentage points.
John Della Volpe, the institute’s director of polling, said there is “a slight increase in conservative principles” among the youngest portion of the age group and that Obama’s youth support is somewhat less than four years ago.
“This generation isn’t necessarily as supportive of Obama and Democrats as they had been in 2008,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily imply that they’re more supportive of Republicans, either.”
In a possible measure of intensity, those backing Obama are three times more likely — 17 percent to 5 percent — than Romney supporters to say they would be “very likely” to volunteer for the campaign, if asked.
“The Obama voters at this point seem more committed and more passionate” about helping, Della Volpe said. “On a completely separate question, we’re seeing less interest in voting, less interest in electoral politics generally through a variety of different ways we asked the question in the survey compared to four years ago.”
The economy remains the top issue of concern for this age group, with 58 percent of the survey’s participants citing it and jobs when asked which national issue is most on their minds.
The age group has a lower opinion of Wall Street than Congress, with 13 percent saying they trust the financial community to do the right thing all or most of the time, compared with 23 percent for the lawmakers.
Romney, 65, yesterday joined Obama in advocating a temporary freeze in interest rates on student loans, now scheduled to double on July 1. Campaigning earlier this year when the Republican race was still in doubt, Romney told students asking him about financing college costs not to expect government money.
Obama, 50, will urge congressional action as he addresses college audiences in battleground states this week. He is visiting the University of North Carolina and University of Colorado today and the University of Iowa tomorrow.
Romney said yesterday he has a chance at winning over more young voters.
“This is a time when young people are questioning the support they gave to President Obama 3 1/2 years ago,” Romney told reporters in Pennsylvania. “He promised bringing the country together; that sure hasn’t happened. He promised a future with good jobs and good opportunity; that hasn’t happened. And the pathway that he pursued is one which has not worked. Young people recognize that and I think that’s why they’re going to increasingly look for a different approach.”
On a Romney campaign conference call with reporters today, Representative Aaron Schock of Illinois echoed that sentiment.
“Half of the young people who graduated last year are still unemployed or underemployed,” he said. “Nearly the same percent still live with their parents. This is not the America that they dreamed of living in. It’s certainly not the hope and promise that President Obama made to these young people.”
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