Press Release

Young Voters Favor Kerry But Find Bush More Likeable

  • September 21, 2004


A new survey of 18-29 year-olds released today shows a strong majority intends to vote, a plurality favor Kerry, and more than twice as many young registered voters are paying "a lot" of attention to the campaign this year compared to 2000. Young voters are paying about as much attention to the campaign as they were in 1992 - when youth turnout spiked. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), who released the poll along with MTV, there are nearly 41 million eligible 18-29 year-old voters, comprising one-fifth of the electorate.

If the election were held today, 46 percent of young voters say that they would vote for John Kerry with 40 percent saying they would vote for George W. Bush. Ralph Nader was chosen by 4 percent. However, as many as 20 percent of committed registered voters say they could change their minds by Election Day. In addition, young voters are slightly more likely to think they would like Bush as a person than they are Kerry.

Jobs and the economy rank as the top issue influencing the way young people vote, chosen by 35 percent of registered voters, 67 percent of whom see their job opportunities as only fair or poor. This issue exceeds terrorism and national security chosen by 22 percent, and the war in Iraq chosen by 15 percent. The economy is a particularly important issue to young voters who are not sure how they will vote. Among this group, 44 percent cite the economy as the most important issue, followed by terrorism & security at 15 percent, and education at 14 percent.

These are among the key findings of the poll conducted by CBS News of 876 18-29 year-olds on behalf of MTV and CIRCLE. The survey focused on young people's views of this year's Presidential election, candidates, and key issues including the economy, terrorism, and the war in Iraq.

Key findings include:

  • 49 percent of young people disapprove of Bush's performance as president and 44 percent approve. 
  • 82 percent of registered 18-29 year olds say they will definitely vote on November 2nd. 
  • 74 percent of all young people say that this will be one of the most important elections, if not the most important election, of their lifetime. 
  • 58 percent think that the country has gone seriously off track (compared to 52 percent of Americans of all ages). 
  • 49 percent think we did the right thing in taking action against Iraq, while 45 percent believe we should have stayed out. 
  • 54 percent of registered voters say President Bush does not share their priorities compared to 40 percent for Kerry. 
  • 41 percent of all young people say they would like to hang out with Bush for a day; 28 percent would like to hang out with Kerry.

“This survey shows that while young people are highly attentive and engaged this election year, their preferences are closely divided, and many are still making up their minds," says William Galston, CIRCLE's Director. “Presidential campaigns have an opportunity to mobilize young voters in very large numbers, but only if the candidates meet young people on their own ground, and talk specifically about the issues that concern them the most—especially the ability of the U.S. economy to generate enough good jobs."

Young Voters Favor Kerry, Although Support is Weak

Although a plurality of young people back Kerry, some of this support seems to be rooted in a lack of alternatives. Among Kerry supporters, 29 percent say they support him because they dislike the other candidates, whereas only 5 percent of Bush supporters claim the same thing. While 55 percent of Bush supporters say they strongly support their candidate, only 33 percent of Kerry supporters qualify their support as strong. Moreover, 21 percent of Kerry supporters think Edwards would actually make a better president than Kerry, compared to only 4 percent of Bush supporters who think Cheney would make a better president.

Young People Prefer Bush Personally Over Kerry

Young people would rather hang out with George W. Bush than John Kerry, and 52 percent of young registered voters say they like President Bush as a person, compared to 47 percent who say they like Kerry. Young people would also rather have George W. Bush as a dad or as a boss, preferring John Kerry only in the role of teacher.

Young women, in particular, prefer Bush's personality to Kerry's, even though they are more likely than young men to intend to vote for Kerry. Roughly half of registered young women intend to vote for Kerry, compared to 39 percent who plan on voting for Bush. And yet, 52 percent of registered young women think they would like Bush personally while only 44 percent think they would like Kerry. Likewise, 41 percent of young women say they would choose Bush as a dad from among the presidential and vice presidential candidates, while only 26 percent say Kerry.

The poll was conducted from September 8-13, 2004. The margin of error for this survey is +/-3 percent. For a copy of the entire poll and additional information, please visit

Funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and Carnegie Corporation of New York, and housed at the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy, CIRCLE ( is a premier source of impartial, nonpartisan, and comprehensive data, research, and analysis on the civic engagement of young people.

Media Contact

Cindy L. Jobbins