After clearly indicating their strategic ploys to secure the women vote this election cycle, Democrats are now sharpening their rhetoric aimed at reclaiming the youth vote. President Obama directed his April campaigning towards college students, focusing on college-loan rates and other university-related political issues.
Since the 2008 election results were first analyzed, the prominence of the youth vote has weighed heavily on both Democratic and Republican candidates’ campaign decisions. The popular myth circulating is that for Obama’s 2008 win, the youth vote turned out in remarkably unprecedented numbers. And all Obama has to do is continue this pattern to secure his electoral victory.
But that might be easier said than done this time around.
First, Obama did not in fact grow the youth vote very much and certainly not in unprecedented numbers. What Obama actually did accomplish in 2008 was to turn the youth vote largely away from Republicans, securing a majority of votes from voters aged 18-29. The actual growth of the youth vote, though, was just 1%.
Posting on the Washington Post’s website on April 24, Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blakeat demonstrate that while political organizations claimed that Obama’s election was in part due to a more than 2.2 million youth voter turnout increase, “young voters comprised 18 percent of the electorate in 2008, a one-point improvement from their share of the electorate in 2004, 2000 and 1996, but nowhere near the heights they reached in the 1980s.”
Misrepresentation of Obama’s success at the polls led to many dishonest facts being promulgated to bolster the supposed turnout-increasing abilities of our president. Even before the finally tally in 2008, Heather Smith of Rock the Vote (as quoted by Melissa Dahl on MSNBC.com) said, “We expected record turnout, and that is what we’re seeing right now.”
Hindsight proved that it was not at all a record turnout, certainly not when the 1980 and 1984 Reagan Revolution is considered, but it was a record margin in favor of the Democratic nominee. And this youth vote clobbering likely tilted the election in Obama’s favor. Dahl says that “young voters preferred Obama over John McCain by 68 percent to 30 percent — the highest share of the youth vote obtained by any candidate since exit polls began reporting results by age in 1976, according to CIRCLE, a non-partisan organization.”
It is not only Obama and Democrats who are going after the youth vote. At the same time that Obama was appealing to his prime target, Romney was giving stump speeches about student loans and college costs. (In pure campaign-mode, Obama demanded that Congress keep student loan rates low, something that Republicans in Congress have also supported!)
It remains to be seen if Obama will once again secure the youth vote, or by what margin.
This time around, Republicans have a stronger platform to run on: Obama’s record. Statistics released by the Republican Study Committee on April 30 show that more than half of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed. In fact, 85% of college graduates will be moving back home with their parents, hardly the ideal goal of a college grad.
Many of the youngest of 2008’s voters have now graduated college, and are finding themselves enveloped in student debt and facing the harsh realities of the Obama recession. And of course the older end of the youth vote have now matured somewhat, witnessing first-hand the destruction Obama’s policies have wrought on our economy and foreign image.
And it is up to this very demographic to perhaps effect the biggest change in the election outcome this November. But unfortunately, youth voters are still favoring Obama over Romney by a strong margin, strong enough to win him reelection. An April 2012 Washington Post-ABC survey showed Obama leading Romney by 21 points among 18-29-year olds. Romney is correct in assuming he needs to appeal to the youth vote, not just to grow the turnout but more importantly to urge deflections over to the Republicans side, in order to secure the election.
Romney needs to focus on the economy, not just student loan rates. He needs to remind young voters that they will need jobs to pay back their loans, no matter how low interest rates remain. And moving back home with Mom and Dad is no way to spend one’s first year as a college graduate. America needs to once again be a nation of unique, unprecedented economy opportunity, and a 2012 “Reagan” revolution is necessary to put the US back on track to prosperity.