Just two years after a surge in youth voting helped Barack Obama clinch his presidency, a new poll by Harvard’s Institute of Politics reports that young people find the president’s performance underwhelming and are also unlikely to vote in upcoming midterm elections. Although the youth vote has become especially important for Democrats, specifically Obama, the lack of young adults who plan to vote presents a challenge for politicians today.
Most registered voters age 18 to 29 years old say they would prefer to see a Democratic-controlled Congress, the poll found. Youth are less much less likely to vote in midterm elections, however, which indicates how perilous it is for Democrats to look to young adults for support this year. In fact, only 40 percent of young adults registered to vote say they will definitely vote in November and a mere 25 percent say they are politically active, according to the poll.
In fact, in the last two midterm elections, only one in four individuals under age 30 voted, a rate about half that of the most recent presidential elections. This reflects the current trend that young Democrats are presently even less politically active than they were in 2006, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center.
Even more disturbing, nearly 3 in 10 young people in America are not even registered to vote. Conversely, older Americans are much more likely to be registered and much higher percentages say they will vote. In a CBS News poll conducted in October, nearly nine in 10 adults age 45 or older reported that they were registered and over eight in 10 said they absolutely will vote.
Looking beyond midterm elections, the poll indicates some troublesome signs for President Obama, since strong youth support was a critical factor in his 2008 victory. Current Institute of Politics polls show that the percentage of young adults who approve of the work Obama has done as president is steadily decreasing. About half of youth voters, 49 percent, currently approve of Obama’s work as president, which is down from 58 percent a year ago. On specific topics such as how the president is handling the economy, the current deficit, the war in Afghanistan, and the issue of immigration, majorities of youth disapprove of Obama’s policies. Among youth voters, the split on approval of Obama’s health care policy is even greater.
With all of this in mind, President Obama continued his efforts to reengage youth voters last month. He held a town hall-style meeting on MTV, and a rally with the band the Roots in Philadelphia. Obama is looking to reignite the passion he saw from young Democrats in 2008. This group represented the Democrats’ strongest support in that election, and is still the demographic to rate Obama the highest.
Obama knows that if he wishes to win reelection, one of his most important tasks will be to engage with the youth that swung the 2008 election. In that election, the final tally for 18-to-29-year-olds was 66 percent for Obama, which is a full 12 points more Democratic than in any other presidential election in the past forty years. The youth were key to Obama’s success and he must win over this group again if he wishes to gain reelection.
At this point, the youth represent uncertainty, both for midterm elections and for the future of the Obama presidency. Not only is support for Obama wavering, but youth voting itself is at a standstill. If Obama wants to target the young adult audience again, it appears he has his work cut out for him; and if the youth want to take a stand, they need to get out there and vote.