Youth vote needs rekindling
Photo by Molly Cogburn, Story by Claire Bennett of the Daily Tar Heel
At President Barack Obama’s political rallies, supporters have been known to shout, “Fired up! Ready to go!”
But one of Obama’s key demographics that supported his victory in 2008 — youth voters — might not be so fired up this time around.
Young voters’ enthusiasm on college campuses helped spur Obama to victory in North Carolina, which he won by about 14,000 votes in 2008.
Yet compared to the 2008 election, the UNC campus isn’t looking as patriotic as it did four years ago, said Erin Sanderson, a 2012 UNCgraduate.
“There was a lot going on in 2008 — a lot of red, white and blue,” she said.
And the amount of campaign rallying on campus was borderline overwhelming, she recalled.
“I almost felt harassed. You couldn’t walk through the Pit without being stopped three times for voter registration,” Sanderson said.
Gabby Whitehall, co-founder of Tar Heels for Obama, said her feelings have not changed since the 2008 election, but she has seen some dwindling some of her peers’ excitement.
While more than 80 people attended the group’s Democratic National Convention watch party and the rooms are full at meetings, Whitehall said she has had difficulty rallying students to participate in voter outreach activities, like door-to-door canvassing and voter registration.
“What can be difficult is actually getting people out there and doing the hard stuff,” she said.
Some political analysts attribute less enthusiasm on campuses to disenchantment with the political system as a whole.
Sarah Treul, a UNC political science professor who specializes in American political institutions, said there was far more excitement on campus in the months preceding the 2008 election.
She said the general lack of enthusiasm for the 2012 election has more to do with an increasing apathy toward politics in general, rather than dissatisfaction with either candidate.
Young voters might have become overly optimistic due to much of the hopeful rhetoric of 2008, she said. Obama’s message resonated with students who believed that politics could be different.
“Four years later, I think a lot of students realize that even despite the ‘hope and change’ message, much in politics remains the same from election to election,” she said in an email.
While there might be less excitement surrounding Obama’s campaign on campuses this year, college Republicans say they’ve seen an uptick in support for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney compared to his predecessor.
“Young voters are turning out significantly more so for Romney than (John) McCain,” said Kenan Drum, president of UNC for Romney.
“Voters are both unhappy with the current situation and the solutions that President Obama has offered.”
Drum said there’s been an increased number of Republican students willing to knock on doors, register voters and participate in phone banks in Chapel Hill.
Although the lack of fervent support for Obama’s campaign might worry some younger Democrats, Whitehall said it’s natural for a sitting president to experience less buzz surrounding a reelection campaign.
“Everyone knows the president and his policies and there is no need for (the 2008 levels of excitement) in 2012, but that doesn’t signify a lack of enthusiasm or support among voters,” she said.
“This happens to every incumbent.”
Despite mixed levels of enthusiasm, both campaigns will continue to reach out to young voters and rally support on campuses across the country through events like debate watch parties for the Nov. 6 election.
The presidential debates will commence Wednesday evening, with the first one being held at the University of Denver in Colorado.