Bad Economy Puts Obama In Tight Spot With Young Voters

Young voters, unequally hurt by the recession, now a harder sell for Obama.

ByABC News
April 19, 2012, 6:40 PM

April 20, 2012 -- Voters under age 30, turned out in record numbers to support Barack Obama in 2008, but after three years of high unemployment, falling wages and ballooning student debt, those twenty-somethings are less enthusiastic this time around.

A survey released Thursday showed that only 34 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds are "satisfied" with the Obama presidency. More than half -- 51 percent – said they were either "disappointed," "worried" or "angry," according to the survey from the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University's Berkeley Center.

"Things are very, very bleak and very different than four or five years ago," said Cliff Zukin, a political science professor at Rutgers' University's Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, about young people's economic situation. "These guys are in trouble and they know it."

Since President Obama was elected, the under-30 age group has seen their unemployment rate rise higher, their salaries fall lower and their student loan debt swell more than any other age group, the Pew study shows.

Only 54 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds are currently employed, the lowest level in more than 60 years, according to a February Pew Research report. And for those that do have jobs, their weekly earnings, which have dropped more than any other age group, are on average 6 percent lower than they were prior to the recession, the Pew study shows.

"All downturns disproportionately impact young people and this one is no different," said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute. "Everyone's situation deteriorates in a downturn. No one escaped and young people got hurt the most."

About 40 percent these young voters are strapped with student loan debt to the tune of, on average, about $23,300, according to a New York Federal Reserve report released last month.

"Young people are experiencing high levels of debt and joblessness and I don't think that the conversation is being directed to them; I don't think there are a lot of solutions directed to them," said Robert "Biko" Baker, the executive director of the League of Young Voters, which works to empower young voters in low-income and minority communities.

As a result, Baker said he's seeing an "enthusiasm gap," where fewer people are fired up about volunteering and getting involved in the presidential race this time around.

"The presidency has made people so cynical," he said. "You're not going to see kids making your own do-it-yourself Obama t-shirts and Obama buttons and Obama posters."

"It's hard to be hopeful when college grads are gradating without jobs," Baker added.

But despite their "dismal" economic situation, as Zukin called it, when faced with a choice between the current president and his presumptive GOP rival Mitt Romney, these young voters, if they vote, are still planning to put their faith in Obama come November.

According to a Pew poll released this week, young voters favor Obama over Romney by a 28-point margin with 61 percent saying they prefer Obama while just 33 percent lean toward Romney. Among all age groups, the two presidential candidates are virtually tied with 49 percent picking Obama and 45 percent preferring Romney.

"As an age group they're still among Obama's strongest supporters," said Carroll Doherty, Associate Director at Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

That support may be due, in part, to the extensive ground game Obama employed to contact young voters in 2008, said Abby Kiesa, the youth coordinator and researcher for the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or Circle.

"If you reach out to a young person they're much more likely to vote," Kiesa said.

In 2008 a quarter of young voters said in exit polls that they had been contacted by the Obama campaign compared with just 13 percent that said the same about McCain's campaign, the Pew study shows.

"The Republican Party has nowhere to go but up with young people," Kiesa said. "It is just beginning to catch on to the power young people can have when they are reached out to."

But at the end of the day, Kiesa said the economy is still "absolutely" the number one issue for young voters. And with 55 percent of people younger than 30 in Pew's March poll saying they disapprove of how Obama has handled the economy, the president could have an uphill hike to recapturing his younger constituency.

"I think that the state that youth are in economically and with respect to employment," Kiesa said, "has a potential that young folks and students will be skeptical that change can really come in a presidential election."