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Polls, panels examine race for president

by Michael Kirk - October 27, 2008


Two weeks before Election Day, the University held a day-long event on the historic presidential race at both its Storrs and Stamford campuses on Oct. 20.

“Every four years, we’re told that this is the most important election of our lifetime,” said University President Michael Hogan, kicking off the day in the Dodd Center’s Konover Auditorium. “However, this year it may actually be true.”

The four Storrs panel discussions were on foreign policy and the approaches favored by Barack Obama and John McCain; race, gender, and age in the 2008 race for president; fairness and bias in the media during the campaign; and polling, politics, and the electorate this year.

The Stamford portion of the event featured a panel on the economy and financial crisis in the context of the election.

More than 20 UConn faculty experts either participated in or moderated the panels. They represented a broad array of disciplines from the Colleges of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Law, and Business.

Guests included journalists and media commentators such as Journal Inquirer managing editor Chris Powell, Hartford Courant columnist Kevin Rennie; former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons; and Jack Condlin, president of the Stamford Chamber of Commerce.

The final panel of the day – on polling, the electorate, and the state of the race for president – was moderated and recorded for broadcast by WNPR, Connecticut Public Radio. In addition to UConn political science faculty, the panel featured Lauren Ellis, president of the UConn College Democrats, and Jennifer Miller, president of the UConn College Republicans. A recording of the panel discussion can be found at: http://www.cpbn.org/program/where-we-live/episode/uconn-presidential-symposium.

The centerpiece of the event was the release of two public opinion polls conducted by UConn’s Center for Survey Research and Analysis (CSRA). The first, a “straw poll” of undergraduates, revealed that among the nearly 3,900 UConn students who participated in the poll, Democrat Barack Obama was overwhelmingly favored for president over Republican John McCain, by a margin of 68 percent to 20 percent.

A straw poll is different from a scientific poll in that respondents must opt in to participate, rather than be chosen at random. Several e-mails with a link to the poll were sent to all UConn’s undergraduates, who had to enter their NetID and password to ensure each could vote only once.

The poll revealed that students are paying attention to the 2008 presidential race – more than 8 in 10 (82 percent) say they have been following it “very” (33 percent) or “somewhat” (49 percent) closely.

Almost all (96 percent) say they have discussed the election with friends or family. Nearly all those who participated – 9 in 10 – say they will definitely or probably vote on Nov. 4.

Television ranks first among students as a primary source of information about politics. Almost half identify cable TV news (36 percent), or local or national TV news (12 percent) as such a source. Online news websites follow, with 23 percent.

Yet although students are following the campaigns, few are actively participating. Less than 2 in 10 (17 percent) undergraduates have attended a political event/rally or signed a petition to support a candidate (16 percent). Fewer (9 percent) have volunteered with a political campaign or group.

Active participation through the Internet is also limited. Less than one-fourth of students have signed up on a candidate’s e-mail list (22 percent), forwarded or sent an e-mail to friends about a campaign (22 percent), or contributed online to a candidate’s campaign (13 percent).

About 9 in 10 students (88 percent) believe the country is seriously on the wrong track. Two-thirds (66 percent) identify the economy and jobs as the most important issue facing the United States today. No other issue is named by more than 8 percent of students who are likely voters.

Almost all students (95 percent) describe the country’s economic condition as “poor” (65 percent) or “fair” (30 percent). Almost 3 in 10 (28 percent) think the economy will get worse in the next year.

More than half (56 percent) worry “a great deal” about finding a good paying, high quality job, and about a third (34 percent) worry about having too much student loan debt. Credit card debt is of less concern to students (13 percent worry a great deal) than being able to afford health care (26 percent) or secure a loan to purchase a car or house (26 percent).

“Students’ emphasis on economic issues is not surprising considering their overwhelming dissatisfaction with the economy and their worry about finding a job in the near future,” said Christine Kraus, associate director of CSRA.

Among the student respondents, 94 percent said they were registered to vote or planned to, and 83 percent say they are registered to vote in Connecticut. Other numbers show that 87 percent say Obama’s race does not affect their choice for president, while 52 percent say that the age of a candidate does.

A second, separate poll of residents in the Fairfield County-based 4th Congressional District on the competitive, bellwether race between Chris Shays and Jim Himes was also released. It showed the candidates tied at 44 percent each, with 10 percent undecided.

In addition to questions on the election, the 4th District poll also covered the economic situation facing those living in Fairfield County, among other issues. The race has generated a great deal of national attention because Shays is the lone Republican House member in New England.

For the full results from both polls, see http://news.uconn.edu/press_room/

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