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Bad news. It appears that young voters are sticking with Barack Obama.
Despite the mass exodus of independent voters supporting the President in the two years since his inauguration he has not lost much support from voters between the ages of 18 and 34 over that period.
A recent Quinnipiac poll shows that 57% of voters between the ages of 18-34 currently approve of the president’s job performance. That number has not fluctuated much over the last two years. The same poll shows Obama’s approval among all voters at 46% and his approval among self-described Independents at a dismal 43%. Those numbers have declined significantly since the president took office.
While Obama’s approval rating among younger voters is a bit lower than the 66% of this demographic that voted for him in the 2008 election, the difference is almost insignificant. In a presidential election, voters don’t necessarily have to “approve” of an incumbent president’s job performance in order to support him over his rival.
Even so, at first glance, these latest statistics don’t make a lick of sense. When you examine our country’s current economic situation, young people should be more upset than anyone else about the consequences of the Obama agenda.
The youth unemployment rate remains much higher than the national average. The Democrats’ recent spending binge promises to saddle Generation Y with heaps of new debt and the outlook for the future solvency of Social Security and Medicare looks grim, with the president showing no interest whatsoever in tackling the entitlement behemoth.
So what the hell is going on here?
Are young people such huge supporters of cowboy poetry festivals and stimulus-funded turtle tunnels that they are simply willing to overlook the long-term negative impact of Barack Obama’s harmful economic policies and their disproportionately negative impact on their own demographic?
The issues have a little bit to do with it. Young people tend to gravitate towards easy to understand issues that have a big emotional component. So Obama’s support for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and his appointment of two, pro-choice women on the Supreme Court have helped.
But in reality Obama’s popularity with young people remains largely intact, not because young people agree with the president on specific issues, but because they are not sufficiently engaged to know that they disagree with him.
The election of 2008 undoubtedly energized young people in an unprecedented way and Obama was the beneficiary of almost all of that energy. It was a season of “American” Idol where the future of the country was at stake and Obama was the star.
Presidential elections are exciting and dramatic. They are filled with larger-than-life characters and come with the prize of leading the greatest nation on Earth (or as liberals call it “America.”). They spark an emotional reaction in the voter that a midterm or local election simply cannot evoke. They are special, occurring only two or three times each decade. Yes, presidential elections are sexy. Policy is not.
The election’s crescendo came when California was called for Obama and thousands of young voters gathered to celebrate in Grant Park. They filled the streets, cheering for the hope and change that they had helped create by working for Obama and endlessly promoting him on Facebook and My Space.
But, once the election was over and sanitation workers were done picking up the heaps of garbage that Obama’s revelers left on the National Mall after the inauguration, most of the young voters who had been so pumped up for the better part of 2008 decided to take a nap.
It was like, ‘Hey! Great party, Barack! See you in four years!’
This disconnect was most evident during the national debate over health care reform. Here we had Obama putting on a full court press in an effort to sell his signature program--the centerpiece of his domestic agenda! But the hordes of young voters who once swooned at the sound of Obama’s majestic oratory and chanted “Yes, We Can” in unison were nowhere to be found. Despite the growing opposition to the bill being expressed at town hall meetings around the nation and the growing Tea-Party movement, Organizing for America was unable to reassemble the masses of young activists who had once constituted Obama’s most loyal apologists.
Instead, the Administration was forced to rely on the same big labor elements and lifelong members of the Democratic Party base that they had used to do the leg work for liberal causes for the past 40 years. As we have seen recently, union members are not necessarily the best spokespeople for complex laws as they tend to yell a lot and get arrested frequently.
When it came to the campaign to sell a massive and difficult-to-understand piece of transformative legislation, Obama's throngs of young supporters were nowhere to be found. Not anywhere near as engaged as when the focus was a simplistic message of “hope and change” emanating from the first African- American with a legitimate chance to win the presidency.
Generation Y’s failure to become actively involved in the health care debate may seem like a positive development on the surface as it could be a sign of Obama losing the support of a dedicated part of his base. But given his approval rating among this group, it is dangerous for conservatives to assume that young voters will not be back in force to support Obama’s coming re-election bid.
The health care debate showed us that Obama’s young foot soldiers are almost entirely disengaged. That’s very dangerous, because if they’re only paying attention during presidential election years, they are not aware of all of the damaging policies that Obama is pushing on the nation. As a result, they will see no reason not to defend their 2008 investment and vote for Obama once again in 2012. Lacking a frame of reference, they will hear the charismatic president tout the realized “change” that he promised four years earlier and not give a thought as to whether that “change” has been positive or not.
For all of his faults, Obama is still a cool character with a ton of charisma. A rockstar, if you will. That’s a very powerful influence on the voter who knows little to nothing about the issues being debated.
And what do Republicans have to offer in response? It’s unclear at this point, but looking at the current slate of prospective candidates there’s no one who can come even close to matching Obama in terms of a style that will intrigue young people.
Gingrich? No way.
Mitch Daniels? Boooooring!
Tim Pawlenty? He’s got all the personality of a piece of toast. And not an interesting kind of toast like rye or pumpernickel. Plain white dry toast.
Romney’s ok, but I don’t think he’s going to get through a GOP primary, carrying the albatross of his Massachusettes health care debacle.
Herman Cain? Who? The pizza guy? You’re dreaming!
The only individual I can think of who would be able to appeal to the young the way Obama has is Senator Marco Rubio and it’s more likely that he will be on the bottom of the GOP ticket than the top.
In 2008 Obama won young voters by a whopping 33% over the elderly John McCain and a running mate who turned off younger voters almost as much as Obama turned them on.
Had McCain and Obama simply split the youth vote 50%-50%, Obama would have only won the popular vote by one-half of one percent putting the Electoral College up for grabs.
It is incredibly unlikely that the GOP candidate will come close to splitting the youth vote with Obama this time around, but with the right candidate and the right message, we may be able to improve on the dismal performance of four years ago.
In the meantime, it’s up to you to get out there and update the young, currently disengaged, Obama voter on what has been going on in Washington for the past two years and why they should “change” once again in 2012.
At this point, it’s not electorally essential that we chip away at Obama’s support among these voters. We can win without them. But in the long run it would seriously behoove us to begin taking appeal to young voters into consideration when we are choosing our standard bearers. If we don’t, we risk permanently ceding a generation of voters to the Democratic Party.
Dan Joseph is a writer for CNS News and the author of Generation Right: The Young Conservative in the Age of Obama. He lives in McLean, Virginia with his cat, Rocky.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
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