In 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama ran a grassroots campaign based on the mantra of hope and change, generating a wave of support from his youth voters and those who plan to vote for him when they become eligible.
Unfortunately, in the 2012 election, the youth who are now eligible to vote for the first time, are less enthusiastic about making a difference with their vote.
“Obama’s 2008 platform emphasized hope and change in an idealized way, and that was what attracted the attention of youth voters who wanted a change after eight years of Bush as president,” Emily Moody, 19, of Wesleyan University, said. “But now that Obama has been in office for four years and people actually see what progress he has and hasn’t made, the message of hope and change is a bit tarnished and voting may not seem as exciting to youth voters.”
“This isn’t going to be like the milestone election it was in 2008,” noted Sean Lee, 19, of McGill University.
According to a report released by the Center for the American Electorate, youth voter turnout is predicted to drop significantly in the 2012 U.S. presidential election, due partly to the decline in political interest among young people. Voter turnout for the 2008 election was the highest since 1960, according to Fair Vote.
“Last election, Obama really tapped into the youth, but now that he’s an incumbent, I’m seeing less excitement and enthusiasm from him,” Edmond Chan, 19, a freshman at the University of California at Santa Barbara, said. “[Since I’m a democrat,] I probably won’t vote in the presidential election because I’m 100 percent sure California will go blue.”
A freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Irina Kirnos, 19, shares the same sentiment. “I pretty much know California will vote for Obama,” she said. “I’m also not voting because I haven’t had the time to keep up with the details of the election.”
“This is my first opportunity to vote, but I plan not to vote in November,” Lee said. “I support Obama, and to quote my AP history teacher: the incumbent always has the advantage. Truthfully, I have the one-vote- isn’t-going-to-make-a-difference attitude.”
“Young people assume their views will be reflected in the results of the elections,” Nicola Householder, 19, and a student at Barnard College in New York City, said. “When you’re just hanging out with a group
of friends who share similar views, there’s a misconception [that everyone shares your beliefs] and people assume that their votes will be accounted for.”
Organizations such as Rock the Vote aim to encourage youth to head for the polls through pubic service announcements by celebrity spokesmen.
But some youth voters say it it’s not the celebrities that drive young voters, but the issues on the line.
“Employment and job creation is my biggest concern, and is one becoming more pertinent for students coming out of college,” Householder said.
A national poll of America’s 18- to 29- year olds by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics released in April cited that 58 percent of them said “jobs and the economy” are the top issues that concern them.
With the recent wave of Occupy movements on college campuses and rising student debt, for them the economy is a hot-button issue.
“I feel Obama has only thrust our economy farther into recession and I do not foresee future improvements with him in office,” Jessie Chase, 19, of Fordham University, said, adding: “Even though in the last election I was pro-McCain, I still remained hopeful Obama would live up to his promises.”
Yet, despite the slow economic progress, with an 18 percent unemployment rate among young adults, Democrat hopefuls recognize that nothing can stop unemployment dead on its track.
“Even though Obama’s track record so far in his presidency hasn’t been flawless, I appreciate his steps forward,” Moody said. “He had a lot of tough situations—the struggling economy included—to deal with.”
Recently, Obama’s birth control policy, which mandated insurance plans to cover costs of contraceptives, as well as his endorsement of same-sex marriage, resonated with socially liberal youths.
“I am voting Obama for economic and social reasons such as gay rights and abortion laws,” Householder said.
“Obama’s social and economic views line up better with mine than those of any other candidate,” Leo Sussman, 18, a student at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis., said. “I support his tax policies over Mitt Romney’s, as well as his views on marriage equality.”
But for students who aren’t motivated by politics or the economy to vote in November, some say they may still go to the polling station if there is some incentive.
“Like free donuts,” Chan joked.