Young voters turned out in large numbers for President Barack Obama in 2008, but recent polling suggests he is beginning to lose their approval. Will young voters turn to the GOP in 2012? Not likely. They’ll just stay home.
In 2008, young voters (age 18 to 29) voted for Obama 66% compared to 32% over John McCain, making up about 18% of the vote. However, the energy created during Obama’s 2008 “hope and change” campaign has faded, and the country’s economic woes have begun to take a toll on his support. According to Gallup tracking, the president’s overall job approval rating among young voters is around 53%, down 22 points from his inauguration. The economy is the major factor in this drastic change; only 31% of young voters approve the president’s handling of the economy. Additionally, perceived broken promises on issues essential to the change mantra have decreased energy around the president’s reelection (e.g. closing Guantanamo Bay detention camp).
Will young voters turn to the GOP candidate? Perhaps a few, but a majority of young voters are more likely to either cast their vote for the president or simply not show up on election day. Republicans are likely to nominate a candidate that will continue to alienate young voters with talk of social issues; however, there is an opportunity for the GOP. If they can manage to keep the campaign focused on economic and fiscal issues, it would be feasible for them to increase their support among young voters. Past history tells us this is not likely, but there is a first time for everything.
What is the fate of young voters in 2012? It is difficult to imagine Obama capable of generating the same energy and passion he did during 2008. Campaign energy, even among those who agree with him ideologically, will be difficult to replicate because of the economy and unpopular stances on foreign policy issues including Afghanistan. Among young voters, 77% said economic restraints were forcing them to delay major life changes, and 27% are delaying going back to school or enrolling in professional training programs. Without something they are passionate about, many young voters will fade back into political apathy and will fail to vote in 2012.
What does this mean for the president’s reelection? In 2008, Obama won young voters by a large margin, but won those 30 and over by only one point. There has not been such a difference in voting preference between young and older voters since the Richard Nixon era. If the president fails to maintain his margin among young voters, his chances for reelection do not seem terrific, and could leave the president asking, where have all the young people gone?