The vaunted youth vote gets a cold dose of reality

This video, from the U.S. Senate campaign of Rep. Roy Blunt, who is running against MO Sec’y of State Robin Carnahan for Sen Kit Bond’s seat, caught my eye for several reasons:

  • I went to the University of Missouri, which is strongly represented in the vid
  • One of my kids is a college student, and the other one soon will be
  • I was amused by the blather about the youth vote in 2008, and this video points to a trend that I fully expected


Looks like maybe the “youth vote” is wising up.  But why?

As of February, 2010, ABC News reported that the recent college graduate unemployment rate was running just under 19% – about 2x what the overall rate was at the time.  According to the National Association of Colleges & Employers, average salaries of recent grads dropped about 1.3%.   37% of 18-29 year-olds have been unemployed during this recession.  And more than 2/3 of college students are graduating with student loans.  With all that going on, the last thing that students seem to be concerned about is voting.

Last week the NYT published an interesting front-page piece: “Fewer Young Voters See Themselves as Democrats” (which was brought to my attention by none other than my 20-year old college student):

The college vote is up for grabs this year — to an extent that would have seemed unlikely two years ago, when a generation of young people seemed to swoon over Barack Obama.

Though many students are liberals on social issues, the economic reality of a weak job market has taken a toll on their loyalties: far fewer 18- to 29-year-olds now identify themselves as Democrats compared with 2008.

“Is the recession, which is hitting young people very hard, doing lasting or permanent damage to what looked like a good Democratic advantage with this age group?” asked Scott Keeter, the director of survey research at the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan group. “The jury is still out.”

How and whether millions of college students vote will help determine if Republicans win enough seats to retake the House or Senate, overturning the balance of power on Capitol Hill, and with it, Mr. Obama’s agenda. If students tune out and stay home it will also carry a profound message for American society about a generation that seemed so ready, so recently, to grab national politics by the lapels and shake.


That “whether” word is important for the Democrats.  Just last week, Gallup published polling results showing that the enthusiasm levels of black and youth voters have plummeted since the 2008 election.  “Thought given to the election” by 18-29 year-olds is at the lowest level since 2002.

And even the Democrats are crying DOOM!

Philip Stricker, 21, a biology major who voted for Mr. Obama but says he has not been paying much attention to politics lately, uses a nontechnical term to describe the phenomenon.

“There’s a vibe,” he said on a recent afternoon, while pumping weights at the gym. “Right now it seems like Republicans just care a lot more than Democrats.”

A spokeswoman for the university’s chapter of College Democrats, Mandi Asay, 22, said her group battled apathy on one hand and anger on the other.

“People are angry — about the budget deficit, health care plan, angry about this and that,” she said. “I feel like Republicans definitely, definitely have a chance of getting back on their feet.”

They should be angry, with an unemployment rate that’s 2x that of the rest of the country.  Although the youth vote still skews heavily Democrat (by a 12-point margin as of last April), that makes little difference if they are too indifferent to show up.

The Economist, not exactly a conservative bastion, notes this indifference and disillusionment:


WHY, asks a Democrat leading a training session for fellow activists, doesn’t “Yes we can” work as a slogan any more? “Because we haven’t,” a jaded participant responds. Progressives, as bedrock Democrats like to call themselves, are despondent. The election euphoria of 2008, when their party secured heavy majorities in both chambers of Congress and Barack Obama won the presidency with ease, has deflated so rapidly that analysts are now diagnosing on the left an affliction they ascribed to the Republicans back then: an “enthusiasm gap”.

The present gap is really more of a chasm. Gallup, a pollster, reckons that a mere 28% of Democrats are “very enthusiastic” about voting, compared to 44% of Republicans. By the same token the Pew Research Centre found in June that only 37% of liberal Democrats were “more enthusiastic than usual” about going to the polls, compared with 59% of conservative Republicans. And according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll the same month, the categories of voters whose interest in elections has dimmed the most since the last one are liberals and those who voted for Mr Obama (see chart). “You can’t deny the level of disappointment,” says Raul Grijalva, a Democratic representative from Arizona and head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Rep. Blunt’s campaign video seems to accurately reflect the gloom and disillusionment of many recent college grads.  The youth vote may still lean towards the Democrats, but the longer they are out of college and living in Mom’s basement, the deeper the disgust with Obama policies will become, and conservative Republicans like Roy Blunt will be successful in defeating Obama lapdogs like Robin Carnahan.



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