The Panetta Institute of Public Policy, located at California State University – Monterey Bay, has sponsored an annual survey of U.S. college students since 2001.

This year’s survey results revealed that students continue to be preoccupied with economic worries, though they bear much more positive attitudes this year than they have in the past. The executive summary is below:

  • College students continue to express confidence in Barack Obama, and rate his performance much more highly than the country as a whole: 66% approve of his job performance, compared with 48% of the public in a contemporaneous survey. However, Obama’s approval rating has declined 9 points since his 2009 “honeymoon” period.
  • While two-thirds (66%) believe that Barack Obama understands college students’ needs, just 21% say the same of Sarah Palin.
  • College students continue to lean toward the Democrats as they consider the 2010 off-year elections, but there are clear warning signs for Democrats in this poll. Students are paying far less attention to this election than they were the historic 2008 presidential race (44% now, 82% in 2008) raising questions about college students’ likely turnout in November. Moreover, Democrats’ 12-point margin in the generic congressional ballot is much smaller than the 26-point lead they enjoyed at the same point in the 2006 cycle, and only slightly better than in 2002 (seven points) when Republicans elected congressional majorities.
  • Students continue to view the economy as weak (83% say it is not so good or poor), and although they are not yet in the workforce, fully 40% say they have been personally affected a great deal or quite a bit by the economic downturn.
  • Students’ confidence in their ability to find an acceptable job after graduation, which declined in 2009, remains low: 36% of college students, including 45% of seniors, are just somewhat or not confident that they will find an acceptable job. The 64% expressing confidence is the lowest level the survey has ever recorded.
  • Interest in a government career continues to rise among college students, with 42% now very or fairly interested!the highest mark we have ever recorded. While the recession may have contributed to this rise, there has been a fairly steady increase in this measure over the past nine years.
  • The survey reveals a startling gender gap when it comes to interest in an eventual run for office, with men being twice as interested in running for federal office than women (men 36%, women 18%), and also more interested in pursuing local or state office (men 43%, women 28%).
  • College students’ support for same-sex marriage continues to grow, now reaching 65%, compared with just 52% in 2004.
  • Students support a much more active government than the public as a whole, and they rate government’s performance much more highly. By 51% to 30%, they say government should do more to solve problems, while among the public overall, 43% say government should do more and 48% believe the government is doing too many things.

Students are ostensibly still liberal in their political views according to this survey, but their enthusiasm for participating in the 2010 midterms and supporting the Democratic Party is waning, along with their approval of President Obama. Not waning at all is their concern regarding their ability to find jobs after college.

This poll provides more evidence that the issue of job creation should be paramount for Democrats if they wish to attract college students (and young people) by this November.

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