The youth vote that helped Barack Obama win the presidency is becoming a crucial element to his re-election hopes — and one that he may be hard pressed to hold on to, writes Wall Street Journal
columnist Gerald Seib.
The importance of the demographic has not been lost on the campaign, which recently launched the Greater Together program aimed at mobilizing 18 to 29-year-old voters, convened student summits streamed to college campuses, and hired an expert to run drive for younger voters.
“The effort won't be without its complications,” writes Seib, who also heads the Journal’s Washington bureau. “Certainly younger voters start out as a core support group for the president. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds that the president's job approval among Americans aged 18 to 29 — the traditional definition of younger voters — is 51%, compared with 37% among those 35 to 49.
“A survey of generational attitudes just completed by the Pew Research Center shows that younger voters prefer President Obama to Republican Mitt Romney in a hypothetical presidential matchup by 26 percentage points.”
However, the young have been hit hard during Obama’s term. The unemployment rate for those 20 to 24 is at 14 percent, five points above the national average. And the percent of young voters identifying as Democratic has dropped eight points since 2008.
“A look back at exit polls from 2008 shows exactly how crucial that challenge is for Mr. Obama,” Seib writes. “He won the 18-to-29 age group by a 66 percent to 32 percent margin, which the Pew report says is the largest margin by any presidential candidate among any age group in any election since 1972. By contrast, Mr. Obama was even with Sen. John McCain among voters aged 45 to 64, and lost among those 65 and over. Moreover, those younger voters made up an unusually large 18 percent of the electorate.”
During the 2010 midterms, the youth vote dropped to 11 percent of the electorate, support for Democrats dropped to 57 percent, and the GOP took control of the House.
Seib cites a substantial difference between a presidential election and a midterm and contends that “the historic nature” of Obama’s 2008 run might have exaggerated the effect.
“But precisely because the 2008 campaign had that lightning-in-a-bottle feeling, replicating the Obama performance among young voters won't be easy,” he concludes. “The campaign faces a whole new set of 18- to 21-year-olds to try to register and turn out, and a need to re-register many of those from last time who have moved on to other locales.
“Young voters can be a slippery group; the president's fate may turn on whether he still has his grip on them.”
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