When it comes to recent presidential politics, the question on young voters hasn’t necessarily been who they will support. The big question has been whether they’ll show up.
The conventional wisdom says that it’s good for Republicans if young voters stay home, because they tend to support Democrats. If that holds true in November, the results of a Gallup poll released on Friday should give Team Obama pause.
The share of registered voters aged 18 to 29 who say they will “definitely vote” this fall is off 20 percentage points when compared to the month before the 2008 election.
In the past, young voters have been more likely to say they will definitely vote as the election nears, according to Gallup. Among all voters, turnout intentions are lower than in the month before the last two elections. Currently 78 percent of all registered voters polled said they’ll definitely vote. In 2008, 85 percent said the same; 87 percent in 2004.
Lack of participation among the young has been generally viewed as bad news for Obama, whose 2008 campaign captured the interest of young voters (Remember the Will.I.am video?). Those young people took their passion to the polls, supporting Obama by 2 to 1 margins over John McCain.
But a more nuanced snapshot of young voters is beginning to emerge this year. The recession, as Alex Roarty of the National Journal recently noted, has hit young job-seekers hard.
A Rutgers University study released in May reported that only 51 percent of college graduates since 2006 are employed full-time. Eleven percent are unemployed - a figure well above the national rate of about 8 percent.
An earlier study from the same university showed that prospects were particularly grim for recent high school grads who looked for work instead of enrolling in college. Only three in 10 of those recent grads were employed full time.
The New York Times reported earlier this month while Americans under 30 still seem inclined to support Obama by a wide margin, the economy may afford an opportunity for Republicans, particularly among voters 18 to 24. Obama’s 12 point lead among that group is about half of what it is for 25- to 29-year-olds, according to an online survey by the Harvard Institute of Politics, the Times reported.
Fifty-eight percent of all Millennials polled said that "jobs and the economy" was the national issue that concerned them most. When looking at unemployment numbers it’s easy to understand why. In June, the unemployment rate among those 18 and 19 years old was 22 percent, according to the Department of Labor. That’s nearly double the rate of 13.7 percent for 20 to 24 year-olds and more than double the national rate of 8.2 percent.
This cycle, Obama’s messaging to the young has focused on student loan relief and social issues like his support for gay marriage. But given the economic hardships many young voters are suffering, Romney’s message -- that Obama’s economic policies have not worked for the young -- may resonate.
If it does, perhaps Republicans too will be looking for young voters to show on Nov. 6.
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