Obama and the Youth Vote: Where does it stand?

By Dave Andrusko

Starting this week, with visits to college campuses in three swing states, pro-abortion President Barack Obama will try to reignite the enthusiasm he benefited from in the 2008 election. The President will  appear at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the University of Iowa. He carried all three states in 2008 but all are expected to be tightly contested this fall.

The Obama’s campus tour comes “as recent polls indicate that he might have lost some of the ‘magic dust’ one former administration official says he carried in 2008,” according to The Hill newspaper. “The campaign ‘needs the youth vote now more than ever,’ said one former senior administration official. ‘While we know support is still strong, we’re not taking anything for granted.’”

What constitutes “youth” depends on the poll. A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found Obama leading  presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney 60% to 34% among 18-34-year-olds.

“But Obama’s enthusiasm has taken a nosedive, the poll shows,” the Hill reports. “In 2008, 63 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds took a big interest in the election. Four years later, 45 percent have the same level of interest, reflecting the most sizable drop in one of the major voting groups.”

Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, said,  “It will be difficult for him, but he’s got to come as close as he can,” adding, “The real question is, can he reproduce his margins from 2008?” 

An interesting piece in today’s Washington Post—“President Obama and the misunderstood youth vote”—adds additional insight.

Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake remind the reader that “The most common misconception about 2008 is that Obama grew the youth vote — defined for our purposes as those between 18 and 29 years old — by any significant measure as compared to past elections. He didn’t.”

Compared to their share of the electorate in 2004, 2000 and 1996, there was only a one-point improvement (to 18%) in the 18-29 set. However, what Obama accomplished was to “win young voters by a far greater margin than any Democratic presidential nominee in modern times,” Cillizza and Blake report.

Their conclusion is, “Looking forward to 2012 then, Obama doesn’t need to drive record turnout among young people — it’s a virtual impossibility that turnout among 18-29-year olds will approach the 24 percent of the electorate they comprised in 1984 — but rather to maintain (or come close to maintaining) his margin among that group.” The remainder of the article (found at www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/post/president-obama-and-the-misunderstood-youth-vote/2012/04/23/gIQAuGIQdT_blog.html) is devoted to proving that even though “Polling provides a muddled picture of whether Obama can hope to recreate that sort of margin,” the answer is (not to coin a phrase), “Yes, he can.”

A more objective assessment of the same data they rely on would suggest that this is by no means a done-deal. For example, while it is true that the “youth” approval numbers for Obama haven’t declined as rapidly as other groupings, it is equally true that the enthusiasm is waning, which is why Obama is doing his campus tour.

Thus the pivotal assumption—that “they comprise somewhere between 17 and 19 percent of the electorate”—is very, very much of an open question.

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