President Barack Obama’s year-long bid to court the youth vote appears to be falling short, and he could lose one or more swing states in November as a result, an analysis of several recent polls indicates.
JZ Analytics pollster John Zogby recently described Obama’s poll numbers among 18 to 29 year-olds as “anemic.” In Zogby’s poll, only 53 percent of voters age 18 to 29 said they would vote for Obama. That’s a big drop from 2008, when Obama won fully two-thirds of that demographic.
Obama’s weak numbers come despite a parade of visits to college campuses to tout the administration’s student-loan policies. Several recent surveys show that Obama’s margin with young voters may have shrunk into single digits.
Last week’s New York Times/CBS News poll, for example, showed Obama leading Romney just 53 to 45 among young voters.
Polls across the political spectrum are surprisingly consistent regarding Obama’s vulnerability. A Daily Kos/SEIU poll conducted Sept. 7-9 showed Obama with a 54 percent to 41 percent lead. Fifty-four percent of the young people surveyed in that poll said the nation is on the wrong track.
Those polls suggest that Obama’s problems with young voters are deeper than turn-out and enthusiasm, as generally reported in the media.
A record 43 straight months of 8 percent-plus unemployment have left many young people wondering whether conservative economic policies would work better, some analysts say.
Obama clearly still holds the advantage. But among young voters, he is running some 13 points behind where he was in his 2008 race against GOP standard bearer Sen. John McCain. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney does not have to win the youth demographic, as long as he holds his own.
Paul T. Conway, former chief of staff of the U.S. Department of Labor under Secretary Elaine Chao, says both Obama and Romney can win over with young voters — if they use the right strategy.
Conway, president of Generation Opportunity, a non-partisan group that mobilizes young people on economic issues, credits young voters with Obama’s victory in North Carolina in 2008. He won by 14,000 votes, and 768,000 ballots were cast by “millennials.”
He says the Obama campaign’s attempts to woo young voters with tactical issues such as student loans and healthcare reforms appear to be falling short. What they really need are jobs, he says.
“You can’t plan for the future — and you can’t pay your bills — if you don’t have the prospect of full-time meaningful jobs in the career path of your choice,” says Conway.
Conway describes young people as a “very, very intelligent demographic that consumes information 24 hours a day.” And he rejects the popular notion that young people are disaffected and tuning out of politics.
His advice to the candidates: They should offer young voters detailed policies logically connected to job creation, he says, adding that young voters are far less motivated by party identification than other voters.
Conway sees mounting evidence that the record unemployment – 12.7 percent among 18 to 29-year olds, and a staggering 22.4 percent for young African-Americans – is altering the fabric of their lives.
He cites a poll for his organization conducted by the polling company inc./WomanTrend firm, showing young people are delaying major life decisions due to their economic circumstances.
The poll found that nearly a third, or 31 percent, had put off starting a family. Another 23 percent said they were putting off marriage until their futures appeared more secure.
“What people need to understand is that this is far more than a vote or a political decision,” he says. “This is actually the prospect to change your life from the situation it is in now, and what it means for your future, to something that is potentially better.”
But to lure the youth vote, he says, Romney will have to offer specifics to demonstrate the specific connection between his policies and job creation.
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