Young African-Americans Support President Obama, but Turnout Not a Guarantee

Are you better off today than you were four years ago? Young-African Americans are divided on the answer.

"I honestly think that is a stupid question," said Antwaun Sargent.

The 23-year-old Chicago native, who once knocked on frosted doors campaigning for a little-known state senator named Barack Obama, still supports him.

However, he added, "The question young African-Americans are asking themselves isn't, 'Are we better off than we were four years ago?' it's, 'What kind of America do we want going forward?'"

The president isn't just facing an economic deficit. He's facing an enthusiasm deficit, and it's among his most trusted supporters -- young people. The problem for Obama is not whether he'll lose loyal young, African-American supporters to Romney, it's whether or not they'll vote for him, again.

The Ambivalence Factor

With overall African-American unemployment at 14.1 percent, and African-American unemployment among those 16 to 19 years old at 39.3 percent, nearly twice that of whites in the same age bracket, Sargent recognized that "some feel like Obama hasn't done enough for the African-American community."

Citing the creation of the African-American Education Office as one of the initiatives Obama has taken while in the White House, he gave the president a different kind of credit. In Sargent's eyes, "He's done things that speak directly to my generation and directly to my minority group."

But some Obama supporters sound less enthusiastic now.

Among "people like me," said Kareem Campbell, a registered Democrat who grew up in the New York's Bronx borough, "there's a sense of disillusionment with the whole 'change' platform."

That is exactly what Republicans are banking on.

"I think we are better off," said Campbell, almost as if it was a question.

He paused.

"Well, actually, I don't know."

Having already been hired by a leading Wall Street bank, Campbell recognized that he doesn't face the same challenge and frustration as many other college seniors around the country. But he believed the president deserves credit, adding, "We are certainly better off with social issues."

Youth Enthusiasm: Has It Come and Gone?

Historically, young people have leaned Democratic. But 2008 marked a new age of American politics. Obama won 66 percent of voters under the age of 30, and 95 percent of the African-American vote.

Now, the president appears to be much more focused on keeping this significant part of his coalition. It should come as no surprise that he kicked off his re-election campaign with a college campus tour.

There's no doubt that when he first stepped onto the national stage in 2004, it was a different America. Back then, the national voter turnout rate of African-Americans was 60 percent. That year, in Jay-Z's hit song, "99 Problems," he rapped, "If you don't like my lyrics you can press fast forward."

So fast forward to 2012, there are more than 99 problems for this president, and a weakened enthusiasm is just one.

According to a recent Urban League study, "The Hidden Swing Voters: Impact of African-Americans in 2012," high African-American voter turnout in certain swing states -- specifically North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana and Florida -- was key to Obama's 2008 victory. If they don't turn out again in several key states and slip back down to the levels of eight years ago, it could cost Obama a second term.

For now, the battle really comes down to two of the four 2008 swing states with high African-American turnout -- Virginia and Florida. With Election Day less than 50 days away, both camps are working to garner young people's attention and support.

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