Why the election may tilt on Iraq

Published September 17, 2004 7:00PM (EDT)

In the polls: Iraq grips young voters' attention, Gallup survey favoring Bush raises eyebrows, and Kerry closes the gap in Colorado

Will the coveted youth vote turn out in force this November? A new poll from Harvard's Shorenstein Center on Public Policy shows that reminiscent of the Vietnam era, growing concern over the Iraq war is galvanizing Americans under the age of 30. While the national survey taken from Sept. 8-12 shows voters evenly divided on Iraq and the economy as the issue of "greater concern," it found that "young adults have been particularly responsive to the Iraq issue. Among adults who are 30 years of age or younger, 72 percent of those for whom Iraq is the top issue say they have been paying relatively close attention to the campaign, as compared with 48 percent of those who say the economy is the leading issue."

The survey also notes that "50 percent of young adults reported having had an election-related conversation within the past day, as compared with only 25 percent in our survey during the same week of the 2000 campaign."

A new Gallup poll -- bullhorned by the Drudge Report on Thursday -- shows Bush leading 52-42 percent among likely voters and 52-44 among registered voters. But it looks like an anomaly next to at least three other recent national surveys showing, within the margin of error, a dead heat: Harris (48% Kerry, 47% Bush); Pew (47% Bush, 46% Kerry). Investors Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor (even, at 46%). Even Newsweek -- which had the President leading Kerry by 11 points just last week, now only shows a six-point lead for the President (49% Bush, 43% Kerry), and an ICR poll also shows the President with a modest four-point lead (48% Bush, 44% Kerry).

Of course, with numbers that close the battleground states are critical. A new poll in Colorado by the Rocky Mountain News shows Kerry gaining ground, in a "shoulder to shoulder" race. "Six weeks before Election Day, the Republican incumbent leads the Massachusetts Democrat 45 percent to 44 percent among Coloradans," the Sept. 12-13 survey of 500 likely voters showed. "That's eight points less than Bush's lead in April and well within the new poll's [4.3 percent] margin of error." And Kerry, the survey found, is on fire with the state's key bloc of independents, "opening a 20-point lead, 50 to 30, over Bush [among] the state's second-largest voting block."

The top issues for Colorodans? Terrorism/national security and economy/jobs (both at 23 percent) trumped Iraq (16 percent). But the war is hurting Bush: "Those who picked Iraq were twice as likely to favor Kerry, 56 percent to 25."

The voter divide on the two leading issues is especially dramatic, with bias cleaving in the predictable direction on each: "Those who picked terrorism and security overwhelmingly backed Bush, 81 percent to 14. Those who chose the economy gave Kerry a huge edge, 70 percent to 17."

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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