The volatile and troubled U.S. economy is the most important issue in University of Richmond students' choice for president, but they are divided on whom they can trust more to handle it. Still, nearly 40 percent here say their understanding of the financial crisis is "not clear," according to a recent survey by The Collegian.
About 57 percent of students who responded said issues about the economy and jobs were the most important in choosing the next president.
There is narrow consensus on who would best handle the crisis. Four in 10 students say they trust Democratic nominee Barack Obama more to handle the economy. Three in 10 trust Republican nominee John McCain more, but 15 percent say they don't know, and 12 percent said neither candidate could be trusted -- a figure that's larger than the 2 percent who said they would vote for a third party candidate. Overall, six in 10 students said they had a clear or very clear understanding of the crisis.
The poll, conducted online from Sept. 30 to Oct. 7, surveyed 298 randomly selected Richmond undergraduate students who would be eligible to vote in the Nov. 4 election. It excluded students studying abroad and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. Six in 10 surveyed identified as female students.
Students overwhelmingly trust Obama more than McCain to handle international affairs, energy policy, health care and education -- the latter of which nearly 70 percent said they trusted Obama more.
On other issues asked in the survey, Obama was at least slightly favored. About 47 percent said they trusted Obama more to handle Iraq, compared to 36 percent for McCain.
Students said they trusted Obama more than McCain to handle the federal budget deficit, though it's unlikely with an unstable economy that the issue will be resolved anytime soon, economists say.
And there's no doubt the strained economy and its effects on the job market have students concerned. About 22 percent are very confident they'll find a job within six months of graduating from Richmond.
Another 27 percent said they were confident, while 32 percent said they were only "somewhat confident."
Political pundits and the national media have spent much of the last few weeks mulling over whether Obama's race will be a deciding factor in the election, invoking the possible consequences of the so-called "Bradley Effect," named after a black candidate who sought the California governorship in 1982 and was leading in opinion polls, but ultimately lost the election. His loss was blamed on voters who, in the end, cast their ballots against the black candidate in the voting booth.
Here at Richmond, eight in 10 students said they were entirely comfortable with a black president of the United States. Ten percent said they were only "somewhat comfortable" with the idea, while about 6 percent said they were somewhat uncomfortable with it, and 3 percent said they were "entirely uncomfortable" with it -- the latter result of which is not statistically significant.
Obama is leading national polls by 7.6 percentage points, 50.4 percent to 42.8 for McCain, according to an average of the polls by Real Clear Politics. But an Associated Press-GfK survey published Oct. 23 found McCain and Obama were even -- results that go against many other national polls and are an indication the race has narrowed in recent weeks following the third presidential debate. Three weeks before, the same survey found Obama leading by 7 percentage points.
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Students overwhelmingly picked John McCain as the candidate with the right experience to be president -- 45 percent to 16 percent. About 23 percent said both were equal.
McCain's work to cast himself as different from President Bush and his policies appears to be only somewhat effective among students. About 56 percent said McCain's policies would be somewhat similar to Bush's, and nearly 37 percent said they would be very similar. About 7 percent said they would not be very similar.
McCain has subtly insisted that his policies would be different from Bush's, telling Obama during the third debate that if Obama wanted to run against Bush, he should have done so four years ago.
Nearly 85 percent of students said the next president should take a different approach to the presidency from Bush's -- only 4 percent said a similar approach -- a sign that Bush's approval ratings are very low among students.
And on national security -- one of the Republican party's signature issues -- students are split on who would be best equipped to handle a national security emergency if it were to take place the day after the inauguration, on Jan. 21, 2009. Still, 18 percent said they didn't know.
Since the last Collegian survey conducted in late September, Barack Obama's support has risen, though the results are not statistically significant. About 55 percent of respondents said they would vote for Obama if the election were held today, compared with 52 percent who said so in the last survey. Another 28 percent said McCain, slightly lower than the 32 percent who supported him in late September.
Fifteen percent said they were undecided, and 2 percent said they would vote for another candidate -- a question not asked in the previous Collegian survey. Given the survey's margin of error, there is not a statistically significant number of students supporting third party candidates.
The war in Iraq was considered the No. 1 issue by 12 percent of respondents, the second most popular choice. Other choices were evenly split when margin of error was considered: oil prices and energy, health care, education, government ethics and honesty, foreign policy, education, terrorism and national security.
On foreign policy, nearly six in 10 respondents said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the No. 1 issue. Nine percent said preventing the spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction, 8 percent said reducing AIDS and disease and nearly 8 percent more said stopping genocide. Other responses -- including Iran, Russia, Israel and Palestine -- did not receive significant support.
Contact staff writer Dan Petty at firstname.lastname@example.org
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