The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Obama’s unlikeliest challenge: Young people

At the ballot box, President Obama has dominated the youth vote like no other candidate of his generation. Now, as he tries to shepherd his health-care law through a rocky rollout and make it work in the long run, the president is as reliant as ever on the young.

But this time, success is far less certain.

A new Gallup poll shows that Americans age 18-29 are less familiar with the federal health-care law than any other age group. While 63 percent say they are familiar with the law, that's nine to 12 percentage points lower than older demographics. An August Kaiser Family Foundation poll, meanwhile, showed that 43 percent of Americans age 18-25 and 41 percent of those between 26 and 35 had heard nothing about their new state insurance exchanges. By comparison, just 33 percent of all adults said the same thing.

Why does the lag matter? In short, because Obama needs a lot of young, healthy people to enroll in plans offered through the exchanges in order to keep premiums down and make the system work as it was designed. Specifically, he needs about 40 percent of enrollees to be younger than 35. (Sarah Kliff gives you everything you need to know about these so-called "young invincibles" over on Wonkblog.)

It certainly doesn't help the president that young people seem to be the least attuned to the new law. What's more, early problems with the federal health-care exchange Web site didn't make it an easier for the administration to woo the young people it badly needs to sign up for coverage.

It's too early to say whether the administration will meet its mark when it comes to signing up the young and healthy. In populous California, where officials have released age-based data, almost a quarter of enrollees were 18-34 during October, a number officials say they expect to see climb in the coming months. But if it doesn't, that will not bode well for Obamacare.

That's why a battle is already underway across the country to pull young people in one direction or the other. A conservative group has been urging the young to opt out of coverage while advocates of the law have been doing just the opposite.

After winning a whopping 66 percent of young voters in 2008 and 60 percent in 2012, no one, it would appear, is better equipped to convince young Americans to do something. But getting the young to turn out on Election Day in a political campaign that encompasses many issues is different from convincing people to sign up for a health coverage. The question moving forward is whether Obama can translate his strength on the former front to the latter task.

We may soon learn the power -- or perhaps the limits -- of Obama's bully pulpit and organizational heft on Obamacare as the president and his allies are reportedly set to embark on a full-bore effort to tout the law's benefits.

The forthcoming effort, reported Monday by Politico, comes in the wake of technical fixes to, which for weeks had been plagued by problems that overshadowed other aspects of the law. If young people are not sufficiently convinced after the PR blitz, the Obama administration could have a problems on its hands.

Thanks in large part to the young, Obama won two terms in office. Now, the same youthful demographic will decide whether his signature legislation succeeds or falls flat.


The Supreme Court decided not to take up a case challenging Obamacare's employer mandate.

The Chamber of Commerce launched an ad in support of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

D.C. Mayor Vince Gray (D) will seek a second term.

House and Senate negotiators plan to meet this week in hopes of getting a farm bill deal.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) says he did not flip-flop on immigration.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) will stump for state Sen. Katherine Clark (D) in Massachusetts' 5th district special election campaign.

After two years of calling it a "holiday tree," Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (D) referred to the tree at the state House as a "Christmas tree."


"Health-care enrollment on Web plagued by bugs" -- Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post

"Could the Sympathy Card Help Trey Radel Keep His Job?" -- Emma Dumain and Matt Fuller, Roll Call