The New York Times reports that the generation that came of age politically during the Obama administration (18 to 24 year-olds) are much less supportive of the president than their slightly older peers. Those voters with only a dim memory of the Bush years are trending more conservative and are more skeptical about what government can do. Given the dismal economic prospects young people are facing, this is not surprising: the unemployment rate for 18 and 19 year-olds is 23.5 percent; for those aged 20–24 it’s 12.9 percent.
In interviews with some young voters, the Times uncovered a sense of despondency and malaise. They may not be Romney converts just yet, but they aren’t lining up behind the president either:
Maria Verdugo, a 20-year-old graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz, barely remembers the presidential election of 2008—the one that spawned a youth movement that was singular in its scope and political effectiveness—except for “something about Obama saying we needed a change.”
These days, Ms. Verdugo is so busy working to pay off her student loans that she has not decided whether to register “as a Democrat, a Republican or what,” she said.
Chad Tevlin, 19, a student trying to pay for college by cleaning portable toilets in South Bend, Ind., cannot recall if he registered to vote at all. “Pointless” is how he describes politics.
The data supports the anecdotal evidence. A study by the Harvard Institute of Politics found that Barack Obama’s lead over Mitt Romney among this age group is about half of what it is among 25 to 29 year-olds. In a close election, this could have an impact.
Clearly, this represents an opening for Mitt Romney, but taking advantage of it will require a certain finesse. Consider, for example, the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act: one of the law’s most popular provisions is the ability for young adults under the age of 26 to remain on their parents’ health insurance plans. It is worth watching how the Romney campaign balances the commitment to repeal Obamacare “on Day One” while ensuring that young people are not priced out of the market for health insurance.
Political scientists have shown that voters don’t tend to solidify party allegiance until they have voted for the same party in three consecutive elections. After the euphoria of 2008, many Democrats predicted that Obama’s success with young voters would lead his party to years of electoral glory. The dismal reality of governing under trying economic conditions has sapped that enthusiasm. As a result, the political loyalties of this generation still seem up for grabs.