This could be troubling for Democrats. The youth that supported Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign in record numbers are not only unenthusiastic about voting this time around, they are also losing enthusiasm for Obama in general.
That’s at least according to one new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, which found that Obama’s support among 18- to 24-year-old millennials has dipped below 50 per cent.
The poll did not measure Obama specifically against Republican challenger Mitt Romney, but Obama only garnered 48 per cent of the youth vote compared with 41 per cent to a general Republican candidate. This is a drastic drop from 2008, when Obama beat John McCain by a whopping 34 points among young voters. On top of that, only 46 per cent of those surveyed said they would definitely vote in November.
This week, both candidates are ramping up their blitzes on college-aged students. Obama is at the University of North Carolina today, where he will push legislation that keeps the student loan interest rate from doubling on July 1. Meanwhile, Romney began a shift to the middle yesterday by agreeing with Obama on the issue.
“I fully support the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans,” Romney said in Pennsylvania, while campaigning with potential vice presidential candidate and Sen. Marco Rubio. “There was some concern that that would expire halfway through the year, and I support extending the temporary relief on interest rates for students as a result of student loans, obviously, in part because of the extraordinarily poor conditions in the job market.”
And the Romney campaign is also attempting to take advantage of a unique situation to slice into the traditionally Democratic youth vote.
The recession has hit 18- to 24-year-olds especially hard. According to a February study by the Pew Research centre, only 54.3 per cent of Americans aged 18 to 24 are employed. That’s the lowest rate since the government started keeping track in 1948. And just four years ago, that number stood above 62 per cent.
So, as it has with the general public, the Romney campaign appeal to millennials by using much of the same strategy: He can be trusted more when it comes to turning around the economy.
“I think this is a time when young people are questioning the support they gave to President Obama three and a half years ago,” Romney said in a release. “… He promised a future with good jobs and good opportunity; that hasn’t happened. And the pathway that he pursued is one which has not worked. Young people recognise that and I think that’s why they’re going to increasingly look for a different approach.”
The Public Religion Research Institute will measure the same group of 2,013 again in October. Daniel Cox, PRRI’s research director, said in a phone interview today that these early results should be taken with a slight grain of salt, simply because it’s just too early.
But he said the unique situation gives Romney a chance to cut into a key Obama demographic.
“These are voters who still need to be wooed by both campaigns, that both campaigns need to fight for,” Cox said.
Some notable trends to watch: Like with voters in general, the youth sampled by PRRI ranked jobs and the economy and the federal budget deficit as the top two issues that are “critically important.” But 72 per cent of those surveyed also favoured legislation championing Obama’s “tax fairness” plan, the colloquial-ized “Buffett Rule.”
The Romney campaign held a conference call this morning, offering little specifics but hitting Obama hard on his “failed” policies for youth.
Said retired Colorado Sen. Hank Brown: “President Obama gets an ‘F’ for failing our youth.”
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