College Students Grade Obama

ABC News asked students to give the president his first-year report card.

Jan. 27, 2010— -- In the first year of his presidency, Barack Obama has faced two wars, the worst recession since the Great Depression, a raging debate on health care and angry demands that he close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp -- to name a few crises.

The fallout includes a drop in his approval ratings among young adults, who played a prominent role in propelling him to the presidency. Obama's approval rating among 18- to 24-year-olds stood at 61 percent last week, down from 80 percent last winter, according to ABC News/Washington Post polls.

That's a more precipitous decline than the poll found among adults of all ages: to 53 percent from 67 percent for the same period, indicating that even his fiercest supporters are susceptible to campaign withdrawal, political analysts say.

"I think he represented a new generation of political leadership," said Michael Smith, professor of political and social thought at the University of Virginia. "He spoke to the possibility of fundamental change in ways that maybe resonated with students. Plus, he's hip in ways that other candidates have never been hip."

Which is exactly what attracted Samantha Neugerbauer, a senior studying English at New York University. "I think part of it was just his energy and enthusiasm about politics," she said. "I felt that [John] McCain and even Hillary [Clinton], in a way, were just part of everything that I had grown up with, and Obama was something new and fresh. I thought that he might understand me better. He knows technology, and he just seemed more in tune with what I see as the world now."

Such waning enthusiasm is common, analysts say.

"This happens to every president," said Danny Hayes, a political science professor at Syracuse University. "Presidents come into office and there's a groundswell of support, largely because we, as Americans, give the commander in chief the benefit of the doubt, but more importantly because the opposition party stops criticizing him temporarily at the beginning of his term.

"But then they actually have to start governing," he continued. "What governing means is taking controversial positions and trying to do things that large numbers of people disagree with."

But some 18- to 24-year-olds say it's the inability to implement policies that generates cause for concern. Keelie Rood, a senior marketing and economics double major at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said she would give Obama a B+ for his first year. "The complete follow-through on most issues has not been seen yet," Rood said. "Like he said he was going to close Guantanamo Bay, and he keeps pushing it back, but you still hear he's planning on closing it. He's not showing anyone supertangible benefits."

Francis Cruz agreed. Despite being a public relations representative for the University of Texas College Republicans in Austin, Cruz voted for Obama. But now, he said, "he's promised change and I really haven't seen a lot of change, except for the worse. I remember about a month ago when he told everybody 'I'm going to curb spending, and I'm going to cut the deficit in half,' and this is after he's already tripled our current deficit."

(The federal deficit for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2009, increased to $1.42 trillion, more than three times as high as the previous year's deficit numbers. Part of that increase, $700 billion, came from the Bush administration's bank bailout; another $700 billion came from the Obama administration's stimulus package.)

The Promise of a New Deal?

Dustin Kingsmill, a marketing and entrepreneurship senior at Tulane University in New Orleans, also said Obama had let him down. "He had promised all of these grand things about protecting the levees, ensuring the schools are top-notch, that crime is eradicated, and all of the superb things that anybody who holds New Orleans dear to their heart would fawn over," he said.

"New Orleans is a nonpartisan issue, yet it still remains unaddressed," Kingsmill continued. "I think that is a great disservice and a great shame on his first year when he had a significant opportunity to see some sort of New Deal-like act take place in New Orleans."

Neugerbauer was also hoping for a new New Deal. "There have been a lot of comparisons of him to different presidents and of course to FDR," the N.Y.U senior said. "I just feel like in textbooks, and in school when you're learning, you learn about FDR doing New Deal-type changes that really helped America; his big arts initiative, his roads and bridges, and all these sweeping changes he did for society.

"I think that I expected something big like that," she said. "Deep inside me I did, and I don't see that."

And, of Course, Health Care

Syracuse's Hayes said, "I think that young Americans are concerned about health care costs, especially people who look at an uncertain employment situation after they graduate from college, because what are you going to do if you don't have a steady, full-time job?"

Cameron Crockett, a senior molecular biology and psychology double-major at Arizona State University in Phoenix, said, "I think there was a chance to do something really great about this really flawed system. And instead of pursuing that, I feel like the 'compromise bill' that resulted will just be a disappointment and really, by working to just 'pass a bill' now, I feel like we've really hindered making real change to the system any time in the future.

"Without the public option, we're passing a bill that doesn't really have the impact that could have been attained," Crockett said. "While I do believe the plan as it stands now, even though that hasn't passed, will do some good things -- among them extending insurance to millions who do not have it now and preventing the practice of insurance companies refusing coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions -- I don't believe it is very powerful without the public option, and I don't think it will do much to drive down health care costs. I feel like it was a missed opportunity."

Foreign Policy

Despite their questions about Obama's ability to successfully handle health care overhaul, young people contacted by ABCNews On Campus generally gave the president a thumbs-up on foreign policy.

"I think that Obama is doing a really incredible job with what he has been given," said Elyssa Lacson, a 24-year-old graduate of Georgetown University who lived in Cairo for a year. "Coming from Cairo at a time toward the end of the Bush administration, a lot of the people I talked to on the street, my neighbors, and all the cabdrivers were willing to get into all kind of political debates. They seemed incredibly weary of the sort of unilateral approach that the Bush administration is famous for."

Tulane's Kingsmill lived and worked in Europe for half of last year. "All of a sudden it was this new thing that I could be proud to be an American," he said. "People were very proud to know Americans. It was a very strange situation almost to find myself in, because I hadn't been abroad outside of the scope of the Bush administration. I was kind of this firing post before Obama, for all this animosity toward the United States. Obama really has done a great deal about re-allying a lot of foreign interests. Whether that is something warranted or not, I think that nobody can really deny that there seems to be a more positive image of America."

Hannah Newsome, a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said she's pleased, too. "He's had a lot to handle -- Israeli operation in Gaza; war in Iraq, Afghanistan; possible election fraud and riots in Iran; earthquake in Haiti -- and he has remained calm and diplomatic," Newsome wrote in an e-mail.

"He has shown that he has the ability to reach out to Muslims and Arab countries in the Middle East, which is important because one of terrorism's aims is to radicalize moderate Muslims by making them think that America is tyrannical," she continued. "At the same time, he has not abandoned Israel, which is important to me because, well, it's the Jewish homeland. For foreign policy, I would give him an A+."

Not surprisingly, there are some dissenters. "The president's job is the hardest job in the world, and you have to take that into consideration," said Geoffery Geiger, a history senior at Texas. "But, overall, I think the president, if I were to grade him, would be a C+ on foreign policy because I believe genuinely that he wants to do good for this world and that he wants to bring an end to these wars as soon as possible, which I am in favor of. But I don't think that he's really listening to the generals. I don't think that he's really listening to the people on the ground; he's trying to do more politics than practicality.

"I would like to see Obama be more aggressive with his own party, but I don't think we're going to get that. Obama is just going to let [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi and [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid do whatever they want to do."

Give Him Time

"There's a certain degree of unrealistic impatience," the University of Virginia's Smith said. "There's a lot riding on finishing some version of the health care reform. I think that if that gets through, by one way or another, that this will be an important difference for everybody. There's something of a perception gap between what he's actually done and an appreciation of it, but we'll need some more highly visible complete accomplishments for that perception gap to shrink."

Joel Gard, a sophomore physics major at Texas, said, "He's done a lot better than a lot of people would in his situation. He inherited a lot of problems, and I think he's doing the best he can. I think when he first got into office, he hit the ground running. He was really trying to do stuff and he was really putting himself all into it.

"And I think he will have to do that again and keep it going because it seems like he's kind of lost some momentum during the year," he said. "But I think if he can hit the ground running and keep it going, he'll be fine."

Neugerbauer of N.Y.U. agreed. "I think that we need to give him a little more time to flex his muscles."