The 18 to 29 demographic, wearing Urban Outfitters “hope and change” T-shirts, rocked the vote in 2008. Four years later, the enthusiasm has dissipated.
In 2008, President Obama’s campaign appealed to the youth with the promise of a bright future– including jobs after graduation. Those college freshmen, who are now seniors, aren’t fooled. Paul Ryan empathized with them at the RNC, “College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life.” That sentiment will resonate.
The last four years crushed the youth’s quixotic dreams. The Occupy Wall Street movement collapsed not with the end of all student debt, but with rat-infested parks. Congress didn’t raise student loan interest rates, but everyone still has the loans, and no job to repay them.
And the national debt. Economic logic suggests that people don’t care much about the debt because they know they won’t have to pay it back themselves. But this runs out at some point, and as millenials get older, they’re starting to understand it will be their burden. Baby boomers won’t be around. Young people are starting to realize the money will come out of their paycheck– if they ever get one.
Most notably, the energy surrounding Obama has evaporated. Instead of sounding like a cool college professor in his DNC speech, Obama sounded like every other slimy politician. “Afghanistan” this, “Medicaid” that. He didn’t transcend partisan differences, he didn’t fix the economy, and he didn’t stop the rising ocean levels. The mystical allure has faded, and previously idealistic young people may be the most disenchanted demographic of all.
A recent, controversial Zogby poll found that, among likely voters aged 18 to 29, Romney exceeds the 40 percent mark. Relying heavily on partisan polls such as this one is dangerous, but even if the findings are overstated, it’s still indicative of dwindling support. There will also be 17 million new young voters in 2012. Even if the youth continues to prefer Obama by high margins, if they stay home from the polls, Romney wins. According to Gallup, 18-29 year-olds have the lowest voter registration rates, along with the lowest percentage of likely voters. The enthusiasm gap alone could be devastating.
Romney– even if he isn’t cool– has an opportunity. Obama promised prosperity and delivered debt. Romney can offer millenials a compelling alternative, or at the very least, reasons to be unexcited about Obama. And if he succeeds, maybe he’ll get to see his name printed on a trendy T-shirt.