The Obama Reunion Tour

It will be like a rock-star concert. I remember asking a classmate sitting next to me if she was going to vote in the 2008 presidential election. With a huge grin, she replied that she had not voted in a while, but registered and was planning to camp out the night before the election at her polling station. To her, voting for Barack Obama was going to be like attending a rock-star concert, and she wanted to be at the front of the line.  

To many youth voters, Obama was not just a politician running for President, he was a rock star ready to save the world.

Like many rock stars, Obama and his band of Democrats relied on young people to fuel their popularity and spread their music. These Democrats are learning a lesson all too familiar to bands—how fickle young people are.

Do we have another one-hit wonder on our hands?

In the upcoming midterm election, the Democrats are going to have fewer young fans at the polls than they did in 2008 since it is a non-presidential election. In the 2008 presidential election, voters under age 30 voted for Obama two-to-one. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, youth voter turnout increased from 25.5% in the 2006 midterm election to 51% in the 2008 presidential election.  

The 2009 and 2010 statewide elections suggest that youth voter turnout will not remain at the 51% level. In the 2009 and 2010 statewide elections, youth turnout was low compared to the 2006 midterm elections, with youth voter turnout of 15% in the 2010 Massachusetts special election, 19% in the 2009 New Jersey gubernatorial election and 17% in the 2009 Virginia gubernatorial election.

If young people vote in low numbers, why focus on the youth vote? While young voters do not make up as big a block as other age groups, they are especially important to Democrats because of their strong Democratic support in the last few elections. In Gallup’s September 30-October 10 polling, 18 to 29-year-old registered voters favored the Democratic candidate over the Republican candidate 55% to 37%, which is much higher than the 47% to 44% Republican tilt among all registered voters.

Furthermore, while voters under 30 are still the single-best age group for Obama, according to Scott Keeter at the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, instead of the 34-point margin these voters gave the President in 2008, latest polling shows that young voters will give Democrats just a four-point edge over Republicans in this year’s House races.

There is an enthusiasm gap. Democrats are trying to motivate their base of youth voters. Thus, Obama has assembled a reunion tour to try to reenergize young voters. It starts on campus. Obama recently had one of his biggest midterm election campaign events at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with an estimated 26,000 people in attendance. 

Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, Tim Kaine and senior administration officials Kathleen Sebelius, Hilda Solis and Ron Kirk are also headlining campus rallies to try to increase enthusiasm among young voters. To reach young voters, the President granted an interview to Rolling Stone, appeared in a MTV “town hall” and is going to tape a segment for “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart before the November election.

But will these rallies and pop culture appearances appeal to young people who are less concerned with being entertained and more concerned with finding jobs? Job security has become a top concern to more and more young people. As a result, many of my peers are looking for an alternative to the current party in power.   

So many recent college graduates are having a difficult time finding jobs and moving back home after college that we now have a term for this movement—Boomerang Kids. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the U.S. Labor Department, the youth (ages 16 to 24) unemployment rate increased over the year to 19.1% in July 2010, the highest July rate on record for the series which began in 1948. Unemployment among young people is a serious issue.

Those Boomerang Kids would gladly trade front-row Lady Gaga concert tickets for a job any day. Concerts and campaign rallies don’t create jobs. This election, young people are looking more for candidates with business experience who are going to make decisions that will help their job prospects and less for rock stars.