In the 2008 presidential election, U.S. President Barack Obama won in no small part due to the "youth vote."
Four years ago, voters under 30 formed about 17% of the electorate and cast twice as many ballots for President Obama as for opponent John McCain. This was in stark contrast to voters over 30 where only half supported the Democratic nominee.
It was the biggest generation gap in four decades of modern election polling. The election itself had the largest turnout since 1960 — when another young, charismatic president made it to the White House.
But Election 2012 may be different.
This year President Obama could find it much more difficult to inspire the youngest voters with his message of hope. It will be hard for under-30, unemployed voters to believe this president is an "instrument of change" and a "visionary" when jobless numbers remain unusually high.
The latest unemployment numbers for 20- to 24-year-olds are 9.3% for college graduates and 12.9% overall. What's worse is the newest voters, aged 18-19, have a depressingly high unemployment rate of 23.5%.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll provided another foreboding statistic for the president: 54% of recent graduates say they think the country is on the wrong track.
Romney's Chance: It's the Economy, Stupid
What continues to bother many voters is the dreadfully slow pace of the U.S. economic recovery.
As a challenger in 2008, President Obama could say he was different than past politicians and promise he would bring change.
But four years later it's still more of the same. Many will look at the state of the economy and say we're still in a recession, debt is rising and the American Dream is slipping away from future generations.
That's where Mitt Romney can point to his business success and hope to spur a movement of youth voters away from the president and towards the former Massachusetts governor.
So far, however, Romney hasn't made much headway with young voters. Though many are discouraged with President Obama, it doesn't mean they are switching to Romney's camp just yet.
The poll of recent graduates reveals a drop in support for President Obama compared with 2008, but it shows no movement toward the GOP. If the election were held today, 52% said they would vote for the president and 27% for Romney. (The poll surveyed those who graduated from four-year colleges since 2008.)
Election 2012: Cool Contest
Face it Republicans, President Obama is just more "hip" to younger people than Romney.
Just as everyone — Democrats included — would have rather had a beer with George W. Bush than Al Gore or John Kerry, President Obama comes off as the "cooler candidate." This image has been helped by appearances on Jimmy Fallon's late night talk show, singing at the Apollo, and numerous ESPN interviews.
Another factor helping President Obama is his popularity in social media, a key way to reach younger voters. The president's Twitter feed has 17 million followers – compared with 590,000 for Romney's. His Facebook page has 27 million subscribers; Romney's has 2 million.
The social media influence on Election 2012, however, is still not as powerful as policies that the nation's youth overwhelmingly support.
President Obama has championed a freeze on the interest rate for federally subsidized student loans, endorsed gay marriage, and has allowed roughly 6.6 million Americans 26 and under to stay on their parents' healthcare under Obamacare.
While President Obama wins the likability contest, he still has a weak spot with the economy, which may dissuade some younger Americans from casting a vote for him. Romney must hope for that – or hope that some who previously supported President Obama simply lose interest in voting this year.
Whether or not the youth show up at the polls for Election 2012 will be a huge factor in determining who wins the White House come November.
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Election 2012: President Obama at the Mercy of U.S. Economy
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Romneynomics: What You Can Expect if Mitt Romney Wins the Election
- Money Morning:
Obamanomics: What You Can Expect if President Obama Wins the Election
Young, worried, and unsure – about both candidates