Obama enjoyed a wave of youth support in his run to the presidency, winning 66 percent of voters aged 18-to-29 in the race against Republican Senator John McCain. Twenty-two million young voters cast ballots, making up about 18 percent of the electorate -- two million more than in 2004, according to exit polls and the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. Today that passion has cooled amid gridlock and partisanship in Washington and a surge in unemployment that is souring young voters.
“There’s definitely a significant sense that this generation are more apathetic headed into the 2012 election than they were in 2008,” John Della Volpe, director of polling for Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, said in a phone interview.
Obama’s approval rating among college students dropped to 46 percent last December from 58 percent in November 2009, according to a Harvard University poll. Fifty percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 said they would “definitely” be voting, an 11 percentage-point decrease from the fall of 2007. A third of respondents said they approved of Democrats in Congress, and 24 percent approved of Republicans. Just 12 percent said the nation was headed in the right direction
“The turnout will not be great,” Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate in Washington, said in a phone interview. The war in Afghanistan, a lack of progress on closing Guantanamo Bay and a dismal job picture taint Obama’s prospects, he said. The unemployment rate among 18- to 24-year-olds was 16.3 percent at the end of last year, the highest since record-keeping began in 1948, according to a February Pew Research Center report.
“There’s not the sense that four more years of Obama will change the world for the better,” Gans said. Still, Obama stands a “reasonably good chance” of winning, he said.