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2012 election: Obama may have trouble rallying youth

BY MARY KATE KNORR | NOVEMBER 01, 2011 7:20 AM

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Obama for America leaders said Monday they intend to increase youth-voter support in the coming election. However, experts say it will be harder for the "novelty candidate" to maintain the youth turnout, let alone exceed numbers from 2008.

President Obama's campaign recently launched Greater Together, an initiative to get youth involved in the 2012 elections.

"Our goal is to make history again by exceeding our numbers [of young voters] from 2008," said Valeisha Butterfield Jones, National Youth Vote director, during a conference call to student journalists on Monday.

Voting among 18- to 29-year-olds has been increasing since the mid-1990s according to the Center for Information and Research Civic Learning and Engagement. And in 2008, roughly 50 percent of eligible 18- to 29-year-olds turned out to vote.

But experts say it's unlikely Obama's efforts to gain support from younger Americans in the 2012 election will be as successful as in 2008.

"We had two elections in 2006 and 2008 where the youth vote was a little higher than average, and a lot of that was driven by the opposition to Bush's policies," said Bruce Cain, a professor of political-science at the University of California-Berkeley. "There was a kind of novelty to [Obama in 2008] … and I think a lot of that novelty has worn off."

Cain said youth voters are disenchanted by the lack of policies Obama has put together, but he noted that the new student-loan plan may be a way to drum up more support.

Brody DeBettignies, the UI University Democrats' outreach head, said he believes Obama will be able to bring out more support. And though there will not be much activity throughout the caucuses, Democrats will soon reach out to students.

"As we get closer to the general election, there will definitely be a greater outreach to the student population," DeBettignies said.

But UI College Republican Chairman John Twillman said the Democrats' approach is nothing new.

"I think every other candidate is doing that," he said. "Especially when the Republican candidate is finally chosen."

And reports show that youth turnout has already begun to wane — an estimated 24 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds turned out to vote in 2010, compared with 24 percent in 2006.

Jack Rakove, an American history and political-science professor at Stanford University, said now running as the incumbent, Obama's political actions as president will trump any campaign promises.

"I think he'll still have certain advantages working for him, but it's four years later, and people have a sharper perspective of Obama now," Rakove said. "[Greater Together] will be both a challenge and an opportunity for the Obama campaign."

Campaign officials said the new initiative will bring the campaign closer to college campuses — including visits by Obama himself.

"The truth is, we've got to do it all," said Jim Messina, Obama's campaign manager. "You'll absolutely see him on college campuses. [College visits] are some of his favorite events."

Obama's campaign staff said that suspicions of less support from college students is a "Washington story" and is not supported by any concrete data.

Clo Ewing, Obama's director of constituency press, said the campaign's summer organizing program had 12,000 applicants, a far higher number than in 2008.

Cain said that though Obama's campaign will not see a shortage of volunteers, there will be a lack of support elsewhere.

"The real problem will be whether or not you will get the turnout of the not-so-political people of your generation," Cain said. "When you get to … the people who classify themselves as independents [or people that are] not regular voters, that's where you'll see a drop-off in the turnout."


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