At a speech on Monday in Canton, Ohio, Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama urged supporters not to get complacent before Election Day next week.
“Don’t believe for a second this election’s over,” he said.
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But had his audience been Yale, the Illinois senator might have been more at ease. In a Yale Daily News poll e-mailed to the entire undergraduate population this week, 81 percent of students said they would vote for Obama on Tuesday or have already mailed in absentee ballots for him. Only 12 percent said they are opting for the Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain of Arizona. (Four percent of students said they are still undecided, and 3 percent indicated they would vote for a third-party candidate.)
The results of the poll, which was conducted Sunday night through Tuesday, are not likely to come as a surprise. Support for Obama has been palpable on campus over the course of the semester, just as much as the dissatisfaction for the performance of one of Yale’s own, President George W. Bush ’68, has been apparent in political science seminars and over dining hall conversations for years now.
Indeed, fewer than one in ten of the 1,867 students who responded to the poll said they approved of the job Bush has done as president. More cited the sagging economy, above all else, as their top factor as Election Day looms six days away.
It’s the economy, stupid
National polls show a race that appears far from the landslide that seems inevitable on the Yale campus. The most recent Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll, conducted Friday through Monday, found 52 percent of likely voters say they will support Obama, while 45 percent will back McCain.
Yet Yale students are confident in Obama’s candidacy, according to the News’ poll. Eighty-one percent of respondents said they think Obama and his running mate, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, will win on Election Day, compared to only 4 percent who said they believe McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska will take the White House. Fourteen percent were unsure.
The president of Yale for McCain, Brad Galiette ’08 SOM ’11, cautioned against writing off McCain just yet.
“Generally those polls have not had too great a degree of accuracy,” he said, pointing to a News poll published Jan. 2 in which a plurality of respondents thought Sen. Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 would be named the Democratic presidential nominee and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani would top the Republican ticket. (Galiette is a former director of finance for the News.)
But Yale students might not be so far off in their predictions, Yale political science professor Alan Gerber said.
Gerber said political scientists look first to futures markets for election predictions. In these election-prediction markets, traders make bets on which candidates will win, and shares are valued at $1.00 in the event that Obama becomes president, he explained. These shares are currently selling at $0.83 a piece, indicating that traders think there is approximately an 83 percent chance that Obama will be elected president.
While he does not think the American electorate at large will favor Obama to the extent that students here said they will, the Yale for Obama campus coordinator, Jacob Koch ’10, said the poll points to the larger trend of support for Obama among young people.
“I think that’s indicative of a broader thing that we’ve seen, which is that Senator Obama has connected with young voters in a way that Senator McCain hasn’t,” he said. “And in a way that no politician has since Kennedy.”
On the question of the most important issue for voters, Yale students are more in line with the national trend. The Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll shows the economy and jobs as the most important issues in the presidential election for 54 percent of registered voters, and a plurality of Elis said the same.
Thirty-four percent of students cited the nation’s economic and financial crisis as the most important issue to them in the election, followed by 21 percent for social issues including immigration, 12 percent for energy and environment issues, 10 percent for the war in Iraq, 7 percent for healthcare, 2 percent for terrorism and 14 percent for other issues. (In the News’ Jan. 2 poll, only 14 percent of students indicated the economy was the most important issue for them going into the primaries.)
“It’s clear that Yalies are thinking about what lies ahead for them, both in the near and long term,” Galiette said.
Students, he said, are concerned about their financial futures after graduation. He said McCain’s Senate experience in dealing with past economic downturns makes him the more qualified of the two candidates to address the nation’s crumbling economy.
Koch, on the other hand, argued that statistics show Americans are more comfortable with the way Obama says he will address the current financial and economic crisis, including a plan for a middle-class tax cut.
Trading old blue for crimson
School loyalty appears to have its limits. If Eli support for Harvard Law School alumnus Obama is high, disapproval of the Yale graduate in the White House was even higher.
Eighty-five percent of respondents — more than the number who said they planned to back the Cantab senator — said they disapprove of the way Bush has handled his job. Only 7 percent said they approve, and 8 percent said they had no opinion.
In the poll, 64 percent of students said they are registered in their home states, while 30 percent of students who are not Connecticut natives said they are registered here. In interviews, many students said they thought strategically in deciding whether to vote in person in Connecticut or via absentee ballot elsewhere.
“When you talk to folks about where they choose to register, a lot of people give answers that are highly sensitive to whether or not their home state is a battleground state,” Gerber said.
Joanna Linzer ’11, who is from Pennsylvania — a highly contested state, unlike left-leaning Connecticut — is one example. “It’s really important to me that my vote counts, so I wanted to vote in Pennsylvania,” she said.
Other students said being able to vote for local and state leaders weighs on their decision of where to register.
“I am registered to vote in Connecticut because I live here [during the school year],” said Jared Wigdor ’11, who is from California. “I spend eight to nine months out of the year here, and I want to vote for the people who will represent me most of the time.”
In the News’ poll, 95 percent of students said they are eligible to vote, and 93 percent of students said they are registered to vote. Fifty-eight percent of students said they are registered as Democrats, 12 percent as Republicans, 26 percent as unaffiliated and 4 percent as “other.”
And among the most promising signs for the Illinois senator, the poll indicates that at least at Yale, Obama fervor is not limited by party lines. Among the students who identified themselves as unaffiliated, four in five said they planned to back the Illinois senator come Election Day.
—Zeke Miller contributed reporting