Skip to comments.Youth Still Inspired By Obama But Impatient For Change (Where's My Handout, Dude Alert)
Posted on 02/03/2010 3:53:59 PM PST by goldstategop
At 18, Ben Taber soaked up the stadium-size vibe of Barack Obama's nomination with a sense of wonder as he joined an unprecedented wave of young voters that would help carry their candidate to the White House.
By the time he turned 20 this week, that emotional and philosophical bond with the president had been tempered by a steep learning curve about governance, and a stern reality check about the scope and pace of hope and change.
"For the most part, the general tenor of this administration is something I like," says Taber, who worked as a U.S. Senate intern before returning to Colorado College. "My experience increased the timeline of my expectations. People are realizing that everything is not going to magically get better."
One year after the inauguration, a collision between post-election exuberance and practical politics has prompted many of the president's young supporters to separate Obama from the congressional hurdles he faces and the sometimes disappointing reality of his early agenda.
An estimated 23 million Americans under age 30 voted in the 2008 general election, and nearly two-thirds of them favored Obama. His campaign's unprecedented use of emerging social media such as Twitter and Facebook not only aided fundraising efforts but also allowed young voters to feel engaged in the formulation of the progressive agenda.
With such pointed attention came high expectations. But with the nation in the throes of a recession, fighting wars on two fronts and wrangling over the president's immediate priority the complex, contentious debate over health care some have grown frustrated.
For example, about 12,000 young people gathered in Washington, D.C., last March for a conference urging Obama to take a strong lead at the Copenhagen summit on climate change. But after the summit, many viewed the president's carbon emissions reduction offer as painfully weak.
"That's not the change we were looking for," says Maegan Carberry of the Energy Action Coalition, which represents more than 50 groups.
"He's stepping in the right direction. But we want to run."
Supportive but frustrated
That dichotomy support coexisting with discontent found statistical confirmation in a poll by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University.
In a November survey of voters ages 18 to 29, 58 percent approved of Obama's job performance. But when asked how he's handling five specific issues health care, the economy, Iran, Afghanistan and the federal deficit a majority disapproved in every case.
A recent Pew poll hints at a similar dynamic: 56 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds "People are realizing that everything is not going to magically get better." Ben Taber, 20, above (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post) approve of the job Obama's doing, but only 47 percent favor the health care bills being discussed in Congress though there's no accounting for whether that disapproval faults the president or the legislative process.
The same Pew poll charted Obama's overall slide to a 49 percent approval rating and showed rising disapproval that hovers at 42 percent.
"Once you win and have to govern, it's not just symbolic anymore, it's not oratory anymore," says Isaac Wood, editor of the political website Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "You're going to lose some supporters who are disenchanted with Washington and the way it has to operate."
Campaigning vs. governing
The Young faces filled crowds a year ago when Barack Obama was sworn in as president. For many backers, the shift from lofty campaign speeches to the slogging pace of governing has been frustrating. (Associated Press file photo) shift from campaign politics to legislative issues has been tough for many young voters, says Craig Berger, who writes a blog for FutureMajority .com, a website aimed at young progressives.
Obama the candidate mastered communication with young voters through social media, he says, but complex issues such as health care don't lend themselves to "bullet-point, digestible material."
Plus, he adds, Obama has tacked to the political center and, after an exhilarating run-up to the election, the familiar story of plodding backroom politics has been hard to accept.
"Maybe it is a reality check in that these are big issues," Berger says. "In order to get it right, you have to play it out a little bit, make sure you're getting it right. Maybe that is a little tough for our generation to handle."
While it's hard to quantify the level of issue-based activism generated by Obama supporters since the election, polling and anecdotal evidence suggest significant involvement.
The Harvard poll reported that 77 percent of Obama volunteers surveyed said they'd be either "very" or "somewhat" likely to engage in political issues on the president's behalf between now and 2012.
Crisanta Duran has taken matters a step further, running for state representative in Colorado's District 5.
"Obama inspired people to not wait for others to make decisions for them, but to be leaders in their own community and have a hands-on approach to issues facing communities," says Duran, who's also president of Colorado Young Democrats.
Questions arose in 2009 about the staying power of Obama's young supporters when Democrats lost the governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey.
But turnout drops across all demographics after a presidential election, says Erica Williams, policy and advocacy manager for Campus Progress, a youth arm of the Center for American Progress.
"I will say that a lot of the lessons on the part of organizers and campaigns that should have been learned in 2008 were abandoned," Williams adds. "Many in 2009 thought they'd get this Obama carryover effect and didn't put resources into targeting the youth vote. Their loss was the result of us not being spoken to."
Jessie Lane Hunt, 30, served as special projects director for Obama's Colorado campaign and, for the first time in her young political career, found herself on the winning team in 2008.
Hunt never felt Obama presented himself as a "super-progressive" candidate, but her opinion at this point tracks the Harvard poll she's happy he's president but wishes he'd pursue a more progressive agenda.
She hasn't seen reform on Wall Street. She's disappointed that a public option on health insurance appears highly unlikely.
"It seems like we could have gotten a lot more with the current Congress and White House," says Hunt, now a political organizer for a state employees union in San Diego. "They're just not fighting for it."
Health care not youth focus
Some point to Obama's decision to tackle health care first as a choice that failed to resonate with young voters.
A year after the election, a group of national youth organizations issued an assessment of Obama's first year in office complete with "tweets" from several constituencies. The report countered the notion that young voters had become disengaged after the election, but it also registered a certain level of frustration.
"While we were still largely supportive of the administration and the president, we were a little disappointed in the compromises that had been made, the lack of engagement between the administration and young people," says Campus Progress' Williams. "But we're optimistic that if we work hard, we'll see the change we voted for."
Still, she cautions that even after Obama moves on from the health care debate, he has other politically charged matters to address such as the economy, immigration reform and concerns of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community all high on the to-do list of young progressives.
"If he doesn't pick those up immediately and work on a second stimulus package, I don't know what that relationship will look like," Williams says.
Brett Abernathy senses an opening.
As chairman of the Colorado Federation of Young Republicans, he got used to celebrating victories until November 2008. Now he sees a responsive surge of activism on the right, evidenced by the chartering of two new young Republican groups and another one aiming to launch next month.
"They did a great job of getting not just the youth vote, but all the different factions of liberal voting blocks, getting them excited," Abernathy says of his Democratic opponents. "But now I see people realizing that the touchy-feely goes away."
So the question remains whether Obama can maintain the loyalty of a huge cohort of young voters, says Karlyn Bowman, who studies public opinion at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. But she adds that it's hard to predict which way this group ultimately will lean, noting that a "natural conservatizing with age" duels with the potential staying power of that first political loyalty.
Even Republicans' 2009 gubernatorial gains in New Jersey and Virginia leave her wanting more data before predicting which way this young voting bloc will go.
"I don't see Republicans gaining any ground with them," Bowman says. "If you look at millennials, only the front end is beginning to vote. And that cohort is so large larger than the baby boom that it's going to carry significant weight."
As monumental as Obama's election may have been in the lives of many young voters, one observer notes an even bigger event that could ultimately shape their political allegiances the recession.
"That's more of a formative experience than anything any politician is going to do," says Peter Levine, director of the nonpartisan CIRCLE the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. "If it turns out that we've already seen the worst, that's one story. If it lasts for years, it'll also be very influential.
"And the recession," he adds, "is a story without an ending."
There's a story in my stack that says the youth vote has simply lost its energy. The youth vote that showed out in such force in the 2008 presidential election, with so much enthusiasm and so much idealism and so much love and devotion and cult-like attraction to President Obama, that voting group is now, eh, not interested.
And you know why? They're not interested anymore, they've lost their enthusiasm because the Democrats have failed to pass health care. That's the story from the AP. That's the analysis. Yes, the young have lost their enthusiasm, not because Obama hadn't done anything, not because everything's getting worse, not because the future doesn't look bright for anybody. No, no, no. It's because the Democrats didn't pass health care. That's why the youth aren't planning on voting. They've lost their enthusiasm. They didn't care about health care to begin with. These are the people who don't ever think they're gonna die. They're not thinking about the catastrophic disease that's going to wipe 'em out. They're still thinking they got their parents to lean on if they do get wiped out by something. Can always move back home. This is patently absurd.
Kids with the short attention span. They're still waiting for the health care handout. Its funny if the times weren't so dark. So for all the millenials who went big for Obama, how's all that hopenchange been working out for them so far?
"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find only things evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." - Manuel II Palelogus
As Barney Frank's catamite, no doubt.
It would have had to be Bennett or Udall, because Barney isn’t a senator.
if you are a socialist at 18 then you have a big heart if you are still one at 30 you have no brain
how true those words are
maybe when these students and fool actually start working of they can get a job and they pay taxes, bills, kids etc then they will understand what the hell the grown ups are saying
also why doesn’t students pay taxes in the town they go to school
we have a small college here and the students , well a few walk around like it’s their town telling us how to be and what to put up with.
they use the town and do not pay anything and yet they go to vote here
maybe if they had to pay tax in the town they go to school then they would understand about us paying taxes etc
My son missed the chance to vote by 1 mo. in the last election. His buddies came over hear to watch the results that evening. Bless their hearts, they were sick over the Obama win. For some it was their first Presidential vote. One came over the next day, tore up and said he actually had a hard time saying the Pledge of Allegiance the next morning.
Taber continued, "I mean, like, for instance, I don't know my butt from a hole in the ground and neither does Obama or anyone in his administration.
So like, I really like the tenor of being so much alike, you know what I'm saying?"
When was this article written? From the date, it’s quite recent, but from the content, as if Christmas bomber, Scott Brown, and many other things (inc. SOTU) haven’t happened yet.
Missy and Junior growing up?
Please consider the source.
not to sound like a harsh old guy but the 20 somethings I am familiar with are extremely uninformed
They deserve the crushing debt being piled on them if they are really as stupid as they seem.
Yeah, but it's not as if he'd have to take the kid across state lines or anything.
mom sorry to hear about your son but it sounds he was raised right , congrats on being a great mother he must be so proud
No they don’t.
A lot of us were young and stupid, and our elders protected us.
We owe the next generation the same.
I agree, but the source I was referring to was the Denver Post.
Re: “Raise the voting age to 30 with an IQ test ...”
I was going to say raise age to 25, and demand proof of at least some experience as a wage earner. An exception might be made for military, but that’s the only exception.