Will America’s Youth Vote for Obama in 2012?


President Obama sailed to his landmark victory in November 2008 on the votes of liberals, women, African-Americans, and of course, young people. Young Americans not only registered to vote in record numbers, but were also the foot soldiers of the Obama machine.

It is apparent from Obama’s video announcement launching his 2012 re-election campaign that he hopes this strategy will work again. In it, one speaker says, “I was too young to vote for Obama in 2008, but I’m voting for him in 2012.” This week, I sat down with two young, former Obama campaign team members to get their perspectives on the 2012 election. Both Cornell Woodson and Franklin Engram did the grunt work of a presidential campaign, going door-to-door to convince voters of Obama’s merits. Our interview focused on their perspective on Obama’s job so far as president, their willingness to support him in the future, and Obama’s weaknesses headed into the 2012 race.

Woodson and Engram agree that Obama has had to make difficult decisions in a politically-challenging environment. However, there seems to be a bitter taste around some of Obama’s failed campaign promises (like his pledge to close Guantanamo Bay, which after last week’s Justice Department announcement may remain open indefinitely, and the continuation of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy).

Neither Woodson nor Engram believe that the youth will turn out for Obama in the way that they did in the 2008 election. This sentiment is further affirmed by a recent Harvard Poltical Review Poll of young, likely-to-vote Americans in which Obama’s approval rating is down nearly 20 points from January 2009. Additionally, according to this poll, nearly 40% of young Americans believe the country is generally on the wrong track. So where has Obama gone wrong with us?

There seem to two key factors here: 1) According to Engram, “Obama’s greatest weakness may very well be the debt and deficit”; 2) According to Woodson, “people are very critical about how long Obama takes to make decisions.” This may be a fair criticism considering the number of civilian lives lost before any action was taken in Libya, or the government’s hands-off approach to the BP oil spill until public opinion turned on them, or the constant continuing resolutions on the 6 month past-due fiscal budget.

The economy and leadership are on the minds of most Americans as we head into the 2012 presidential election, and it appears youth have the same concerns. Considering that the unemployment rate for recent college grads is nearly 9.4%, about the same as the national average, it is no surprise that young Americans are concerned about the economy. Furthermore, Obama did a great job in 2008 of convincing young Americans that he would lead differently, but amidst government gridlock, burgeoning government shutdowns, and significant lag time on making key foreign policy decisions, many young Americans may be struggling to see the difference in his promised leadership style.

While both Woodson and Engram are committed to assisting Obama in the 2012 election as they did in 2008, it seems that the youth will not rally behind Obama nearly as much as they did the first time. In my opinion, if Obama really wants young Americans to rock the vote for him in 2012, he’s going to have to start spending a lot more time talking about where he wants this country to go and how he wants to get us there. Otherwise, young America may be pushing buttons on their Xbox rather than in the voting booth in November 2012.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons