Political Animal


May 06, 2012 1:45 PM Are Young Voters Less Enthusiastic This Time Around—and Will It Matter?

By Jesse Singal

There’s a fair amount worth unpacking in Mark McKinnon’s piece on Obama’s struggles with the declining enthusiasm of young voters. But I think this part is key:

President Obama is in trouble. Just 50 percent of college-age youth approve of his performance overall; that’s 5 points less than their 25-to-29-year-old peers. While that general measure is trending upward from a low point in December 2011, just 39 percent of the younger millennials approve of his handling of the economy. And only 43 percent think Obama will win reelection, with 29 percent thinking he will lose and 28 percent unsure.
Finally, in a head-to-head matchup with Romney, Obama wins only 41 percent support, a significant drop from actual votes from this group in 2008.
But the picture isn’t bright for Mitt Romney, either.
“Although this generation is not as supportive of President Obama and Democrats as they may have been in the historic 2008 campaign, this in no way implies that the Republican Party has successfully captured the hearts, minds, and votes of millennials,” says Harvard Institute of Politics polling director John Della Volpe.
In direct competition with the president, Romney wins only 29 percent support. That’s less than what Ron Paul would win against Obama in an imaginary matchup and less than the poll support John McCain won from young millennials in the spring-2008 survey. And when Romney’s supporters were asked if they would volunteer for his campaign, less than a third said they would engage versus more than half of Obama’s supporters.

Young people aren’t going to come around to Mitt Romney. Not in any great numbers. So the important question is whether or not they will feel energized to come out for Obama. As far as the GOP is concerned, a lot of young people staying home on Election Day would constitute a victory on this front.

It’s also worth pointing out that the importance of young voters is a bit overrated, sometimes, and might not matter as much as people think unless the election is close. 2008 wasn’t close, and in the wake of Obama’s victory one pollster “re-ran the numbers as if there were no voters under 30, [and found that] the only states that would switch to Republican presidential candidate John McCain are Indiana and North Carolina.” That is, Obama still would have won.

That said, what doesn’t show up in this sort of analysis are the countless hours young people poured into volunteering for the campaign in 2008. There’s not going to be anywhere near the same volunteer enthusiasm this time around.

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.


  • c u n d gulag on May 06, 2012 2:17 PM:

    I don't see how anyone young who's not a College Republican can, if they vote, vote for the MITT2012 cyborg.
    He's absurdly rich.
    He's completely out of touch.
    He's stiff.
    He's humorless.
    He looks like he's an aging animatronic Ken doll, standing beside his animatronic Barbie doll wife.
    And he's got all of the charisma of a brick.

    I can see them NOT voting. I can't see them voting for Mitt.

  • Patrick Star on May 06, 2012 2:23 PM:

    My son is 21, and unfortunately, my interest in politics was not passed down to him. He'll vote for Obama, mainly to please me, but he really isn't all that interested, and most of his friends are the same. All they care about is sports - they're the ESPN generation. The only candidate who resonates at all with his generation is Ron Paul, though if you asked them why, I doubt you'd get a coherent answer. They seem to think he's this cool old dude who thinks it's ok to smoke weed, and is against war - that's about it. I think Obama has an image problem with young males - all the right-wing propaganda portraying him as a weak anti-capitalist socialist makes it hard for young men to publicly support him, lest they be considered gay by their friends.

  • jjm on May 06, 2012 2:32 PM:

    But the enthusiastic young people I see at Obama's campaign stops don't seem to have a problem with him.

    A lot of this 'slackening of enthusiasm' is propaganda emanating from the GOP -- look at how they faked the photo of the Ohio rally by taking the pictures before it began to claim it was as empty as Romney's big rollout in Michigan had been.

    But you know, 14,000 people attended Obama's rally and if each one of them tells a friend or family member the truth, and so on and so on: the GOP is a flop.

  • Kathryn on May 06, 2012 3:06 PM:

    Personally, I find Patrick Star's comment more concerning that anything written by Mark McKinnon. McKinnon is often represented as some sort of moderate GOP horse whisperer , someone who can speak softly for non radical Republicans, all 10 of them. Whenever I hear him he sounds like a republican without the outrageousness of Gingrich or Bachmann, nothing more and nothing less.

    What is concerning is the corrosive effect of three years of right wing hate in the form of FOX, Limbaugh, Internet conspiracy and racism that has soaked into the culture.

  • tom on May 06, 2012 3:09 PM:

    Remember that the "young voters" of 2008 are 22-26 years old now. The "young voters of 2012 were, many, not voters in 2008. Those first time voters in 2008 will be second-time voters in 2012 and, if past history is a guide, will be more committed to voting as they age. The comparison to make is between first time young voters now and similar voters in the Spring of 2008. And if this group of voters is less attracted to Romney than the same age group was to McClain in 2008 -- that's a very good sign.

  • hornblower on May 06, 2012 3:17 PM:

    Just like most of America they are not focused on the election 24/7. Any survey now is meaningless.

  • FlipYrWhig on May 06, 2012 3:23 PM:

    I think what Tom says above is important. The comparison isn't so much young first time voters this time vs. 2008, but young first time voters this time replacing the oldsters who have died off since 2008. Some people will have voted in both 08 and 12, and some of them will switch sides; some people who voted in 08 will sit home in 12. But a 41-29 edge among a group that hasn't cast any votes before feels like a rather substantial edge. Also, MacKinnon is making the mistake of comparing the results of an exit poll (where everyone, by definition, has turned out to vote) to the results of a poll of the population (where a lot of the undecideds will never decide and, hence, not cast a vote). If the only ones who turn out are the 41 Ds and 29 Rs, that quickly becomes a (back of the envelope...) 59% to 41% edge. Looks like in 08 the exit polls were something like 68%-30% for Obama in this group.

  • gdb on May 06, 2012 3:26 PM:

    It's encouraging to see that the youngest voters "get it". Mittens is a disaster, but BHO is no prize. He is better by comparison, not by his commitment to liberal or Keynesian policies.

  • FlipYrWhig on May 06, 2012 3:33 PM:

    There's no reason to think that young voters are unenthusiastic about Obama, if that's even true, because they think he's not liberal or not Keynesian enough.

  • TT on May 06, 2012 3:38 PM:

    Yes, mobilizing youngsters is going to be tough.They are the toughest demographic for a campaign to turn out on election day. If there is one campaign that can do it, it is the Obama campaign. Remember Iowa caucuses in 2008. The media, Hillary campaign, Edwards campaign all made fun of the Obama campaign when they said they will turn out the young for a win. 200,000 was the over/under. Caucus day tally on the Democratic side was 240,000. All the Republican hate-mongering could only muster 120,000 in Iowa this year.

    Democracy is hard. It takes patience and hard work. I myself have registered a little over 400 high school seniors who have turned 18 since last year. If you support President Obama, do something about it and encourage others as well. I have done knocking on doors, GOTV on election day but registering voters is the most satisfying volunteer work I have done. Contact your local Organizing for America. There is a huge summer/fall push to register voters.

  • FlipYrWhig on May 06, 2012 3:46 PM:

    @TT: I really wish there had been a similarly aggressive attempt to bounce Grassley in 2010, especially after he did more to ruin HCR than anybody.

  • Cha on May 06, 2012 4:09 PM:

    Mark McKinnon is a republicon and the gopropaganda machine is pushing that the enthusiasm isn't there for PRESIDENT Obama. There's no thanks to you, Jesse, for buying into it. Obama is the President and he's earned that title and the respect that goes along with it.

    These students look pretty damn FIRED UP! And, Ready To Go FORWARD!


    Do I ever miss Steve Benen, 7 days a week!

    Oh, and to gdb..President Obama has been an excellent president but you actually have to know what he's accomplished. Benen and other reeality based bloggers are excellent in writing about it over the years. The coporatemediawhore$$$ ignore it and whine about the negative..as do the Profiteering "left".

  • gdb on May 06, 2012 7:11 PM:

    Those of us who make up the Democratic wing of the Democratic party do know what BHO has and hasn't accomplished -- as do many voters, some bloggers (and in many cases, Benen)excepted. Inadequate stimulus-- enough stimulus to prevent a second Great Depression (yet-- keep an eye on State spending and the EU), but just enough for the Great Recession to last 6-10 years. Some insurance reform-- not health care reform. Inadequate financial reform. Etc. And these are not policies that are wild-eyed left. They are policies that Kennedy, Carter, LBJ, Turman, Eisenhower -=- hell, even Nixon-- supported.

  • Cha on May 06, 2012 7:39 PM:

    Yes, we in the Democratic Wing(PObama's Real SOLID Base) know exactly what President Obama has accomplished and it's been a lot in spite of all the obstruction, lies, and smears from the gopropaganda machine and the profiteering "left". We appreciate what has been done and don't whine about what hasn't been done yet.

    He's some more of the "enthusiam gap" from Richmond!


  • FreakyBeaky on May 06, 2012 7:55 PM:

    @Cha, if you were unemployed, underemployed, and aware Wall Street is still corrupt as hell - thanks for standing between them and the pitchforks, Barry - you would legitimately wonder what had been accomplished and not be too enthusiastic.

    Partisans like you, however, are not known for being able to see that. More for name calling. "Profiteering 'left'" indeed. You think those are the voters Obama is going to lose?

  • Rudy Gonzales on May 06, 2012 11:06 PM:

    Young and old voters are not less enthusiastic, they know Obama is going to win decisively. Romney has little chance with his recorded remarks during the TEA-Republican nomination process. There are many who did not want the nominee to be Romney and hold their nose when they vote for him, while Obama enjoys the success and support from people of color, women, gays and unions. It has been well documented the Troubling Economic Antagonist­(TEA) party would field contestants around the nation to further their skewed, narrow-minded fringe beliefs and effect local and state controls while moving towards national prominence. Let's all get together and empty the House and Senate of the confrontational TEA-Republicans. Get involved locally. That's where the real power lies. Vote straight Democratic Ticket! Effect a change! Make your voices heard! Get active locally - Get active at the state level - Get registered to vote - Vote - Get out the vote!

  • Patango on May 07, 2012 2:09 AM:

    Cha is a hypersensitive conservadem imo , thus the PROFITEERING labels it hurls every where , in his world obama campaigned to the RIGHT of Hilary , and obama could take a huge RIGHT again , and no dem should ever call him on it...mr obama "I'm reading ronny reagan" (???) lol

    The Pres just started his campaign , people will be getting excited again , the election is a long way off still , I'm thinking you will be seeing some big crowds like last time , you get the word out early in places like the midwest, and a ton of people will show up to go see the pres , remember the st louis rally in the summer of 2008? It was just an ocean of people , it was very exciting , the corporate media is always full of crapola , aka counting the people already

  • Gaius Gracchus on May 07, 2012 9:37 AM:

    The lack of a competitve democratic party has weakened the Obama campaign, all the while giving a false sense of confidence. This is especially true among the new voters, whose career expectations are in the tank and won't wait for the long promised but undelivered Hope and Change.

  • KK on May 07, 2012 10:10 AM:

    I will second Pat Starrs commen, my 21 year old son to a tee. Tough to like an incumbent when the youth job market blows. I managed to convince my son Ron Paul is idiot, didn't take much. They do dislike the R's though I can't see many voting that way.