Don’t get me wrong: Millennials want Obama to win. They just think he won’t.

A 36 percent plurality of 18-to-29-year-olds think Obama will lose his bid for reelection, according to a new poll from the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. Just 30 percent think he will win, while 32 percent are not sure. The percentages are very similar for the four-year college crowd. Among enrolled college students, 37 percent think he’ll lose, 31 percent think he’ll win and 31 percent are not sure. Most hopeful of all, less than half of those millennials who voted for Obama in 2008 think he’ll win again in 2012.

But millennials apparently have no problem throwing their support behind a suspected loser because they said they’d still choose Obama before they’d choose a generic Republican (35 percent to 29 percent). They’d pick Obama over Mitt Romney by an 11-point margin (37 percent to 26 percent) and over Newt Gingrich or Rick Perry by a 16-point spread (39 percent to 23 percent).

Nevertheless, poll experts suggest the results could mean what I’ve said for some time: An opening exists with millennials for any candidate willing to take advantage of it.

“Our new polling data clearly shows Millennials are growing more concerned over the direction of the country and effectiveness of Washington, D.C. to solve problems,” IOP director Trey Grayson said in a statement. “The opportunity exists for all political parties and campaigns to re-engage this generation – those who do can maximize results in 2012.”

Fortunately for the GOP, the Occupy movement doesn’t appear to have engaged as many millennials as was perhaps previously thought. According to the same Harvard-conducted study, less than one in four millennials supports the Occupy movement.

Unfortunately for the GOP, Obama has made capturing the youth vote a continued priority, whereas the GOP candidates have not developed an advanced strategy for appealing to young voters. But young voters stand to lose disproportionately from Obama’s debt-growing policies. After all, who will have to pay down that debt? Who won’t be able to depend on Social Security and Medicare? Millennials also have a higher unemployment rate than the national average.

Remember that 16 million 2012-eligible youth voters weren’t eligible to vote in 2008. They’ve never cast a ballot for president at all. Far easier to capture an uncommitted kid than an entrenched Obama supporter. Also, Obama’s approval rating is down with millennials just as it is with other demographics. In February, 60 percent of college kids approved of the job he was doing — now just 48 percent do.

Then again, those 16 million might prove to be typical youth voters — magnetized by charisma and careless of the issues. No substitute for a candidate turning on the charm. Whoever the GOP nominee is better be ready to do just that.

P.S. A quick note about methodology because at least a few of you were disappointed that I occasionally take Public Policy Polling seriously. Yes, this poll comes out of Harvard, a liberal academic institution. But the sample was large (2,028 completed interviews) and drawn from a web database that was constructed by a random selection of telephone numbers and residential addresses. Nothing about these numbers seem “off” to me. Most “objective” indicators suggest Obama does face an uphill reelection battle, even as poll after poll shows that young voters continue to find him more appealing than any GOP candidate.