President Obama and young voters are no longer a love match

at 02:00 PM ET, 10/27/2011

President Obama’s campaign is redoubling its efforts to woo young voters ahead of the 2012 election, and the campaign has got its work cut out for it.

Shortly after Obama took office, 84 percent of voters aged 18 to 29 approved of the president, according to Post polling. Earlier this month, that figure had dropped to 52 percent.

And a new poll for the Democratic-leaning polling consortium Democracy Corps showed Obama’s approval among young voters actually slipping below 40 percent, a figure roughly consistent with the rest of the population.
(Data from Washington Post polling)

Like the other key voter blocs that helped deliver the 2012 election for Obama — think African American and Latino voters — young voters have fallen out of love with the president, at least to some extent.

But young voters present even more of a challenge than other key voting blocs for the president. That’s because while black turnout increased substantially in 2008 and Latino voters swung strongly for Obama, young voters did both — coming to the polls in record numbers and swinging hugely for the president.

“They are such a key target to our success, including young minority voters, especially Hispanics,” said Democratic pollster John Anzalone.

In the 2008 election, the final tally among 18-to-29-year-olds was 66 percent for Obama — a full 12 points more Democratic than in any presidential election in the past four decades. Young voters accounted for about 8 million of Obama’s 10 million-vote margin in the popular vote over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

In no other demographic group did Obama so outperform his Democratic predecessors. And that makes this voter bloc hugely important to his reelection chances.

It also makes replicating what happened in 2008 with young voters very difficult.

But can the Obama team come close? And if young voters are truly turned off, do they stay home (as they often do) or do they vote Republican?

That’s where things get a little more difficult to predict.

Despite falling out of love with Obama, most polling shows this is still clearly the president’s strongest age group. And recent Washington Post polling shows the president is still at 59 percent among the youth demographic in a head-to-head matchup with Mitt Romney.

“It’s fair to say we are looking to do as well, if not better, than we did in 2008,” with young voters, said one Obama aide confidently.

Other polling hasn’t been as kind to the president, but he’s still the clear favorite among young voters. And he is still on pace to win more of the youth vote than any other Democrat who preceded him on the presidential ticket in recent decades.

At this point, it’s hard to see young people — even though they have swung Republican before — pulling the GOP lever. Even in a disastrous year for Democrats in 2010, they still won 18-to-29-year-olds, 54 to 46 percent.

The question, then, is how much of a bump young voters give Obama, and whether it’s enough. The president may not be able to net 8 million votes from that age group like he did in 2008, but he’ll need to nab several million, at least, to put him over the top.

That won’t be easy. Tough economic times have hit young workers particularly hard, with some measures of unemployment hitting record highs.

“Everyone thinks of the young vote as college-going students, but most 18-to-29-year-olds are not currently going to college,” said GOP pollster Glen Bolger. “Thus, they’re focused on jobs.”

But even as polling has shown a marked shift among young people, the size of that shift stoll it’s still not completely clear.

In most polls, the sample size taken of the young vote tends to be much smaller than that that of the overall poll. And it’s also much harder to get a representative sample of young voters who may be more transient or who only have cellphones.

“Young voters are just really hard to get a hold of, and if you don’t do a majority of interviews with young voters by cellphone ... you are weighting a small universe up, and it does not necessarily reflect the young universe as a whole,” Anzalone said.

Thus, we don’t really know what to expect from young voters. And they could go any number of ways between now and Election Day — be it towards the GOP, back to Obama or simply staying home.

What we do know is that they will be hugely determinative of Obama’s success.

Why has support for President Obama dropped among young voters? Can he regain their support before election day? Weigh in on Twitter using #Campaign2012

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