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ThePlumLIneGS whorunsgov plumline
Posted at 03:33 PM ET, 04/26/2012

What the war over youth vote is really about: Turnout

Gallup finds that Obama is still beating Mitt Romney among young voters at 2008-like levels:

Voters aged 18 to 29 in Gallup’s most recent five-day average, April 20-24, support Obama over Romney by 35 percentage points, 64% to 29%, and — compared with older age groups — have been disproportionately supportive of Obama since Gallup’s tracking began on April 11, albeit by differing margins.

But the problem is that they don’t appear to be inclined to turn out to vote at the levels Obama may need:

The practical value of Obama’s broad support among young voters is lessened by the fact that only six in 10 of these voters say they are registered to vote, and that fewer than six in 10 who are registered say they will definitely vote in November’s election.

Keeping in mind the necessary caveat that you should never read too much into one poll, you can bet that both the Obama and Romney campaigns are eyeing both these trends in similar fashion. Indeed, the ongoing war over young voters is probably more about whether they’ll turn out in large enough numbers for Obama than about any sense that Romney could actually win them over in any meaningful numbers.

Romney’s quick embrace of Obama’s push to extend low interest rates for federally-funded student loans was about papering over a potential difference before it gets out of hand. With Obama embarking on a three-state student-loan tour designed to fire up young voters, Romney’s support for the extension was a hasty effort to dial back a contrast that — thanks to Romney’s statements during the primary — risks becoming a point of major contention that could motivate young voters: Over government’s role in helping alleviate student debt.

Meanwhile, the Romney campaign’s pitch to young voters has been more an argument as to why they should not enthusiastically support Obama than it has been an argument for why they should support Romney. On a recent conference call organized to push for the youth vote, Romney surrogates argued again and again that Obama had failed them on the jobs front, without offering anything meaningful of their own in the way of specific policy prescriptions on issues important to young Americans.

What’s more, Romney has couched his arguments to young voters in very businesslike terms. He recently said rather colorlessly that young voters “have” to vote for him if they are really following “what’s in their personal best interest.” This seems like it’s less about inspiring young voters for Romney than it is about shifting the debate to the economy, with the goal of moving it away from areas where Obama might still be able to generate excitement.

Gallup’s conclusion says it all: “It is a well-established fact of American political life that young voters are not dependable voters. In a close election, however, the support of even low-turnout groups can be decisive.”

By  |  03:33 PM ET, 04/26/2012

 
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