Social issues prove key to bringing out the youth vote
It’s something Republicans have tried to target over recent weeks. Vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s hook-line at the Republican National Convention last month was like ice to a sensitive tooth for many Democrats. “College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life,” he said.
Economic issues, though, are not the main issue for many young people choosing to vote for Obama. In Charlottesville – a pretty, compact town with colonial era wooden houses and a sprawling university campus designed by Thomas Jefferson – it’s the social ones that dominate.
Two students, Sana Khawaja (20) an anthropology student from Washington DC, and Lily Burkhalter (21) an English student, don’t believe either candidate will change the economy drastically – but they believe much more is at stake when it comes to abortion rights, gay marriage and personal freedom.
“Our generation hasn’t really known things not to be economically crappy,” says Burkhalter. “So, this is more the norm for us. People of our generation are much more likely to feel strongly about issues like women’s rights and marriage equality.”
In many ways, Obama is being held to the near-impossible standards he set in the last election, when the youthful candidate with the rousing speeches attracted jaw-dropping crowds. But that candidate has changed. He has, perhaps inevitably, lost some of that easy swagger and playful enthusiasm. It’s something that’s been all too visible during his oddly flat TV debate and his often bloodless re-election campaign. Young people are still on his side, just not in the way they were four years ago.
“Four years, ago, Obama really did electrify young people,” says Larry Sabato, professor of politics at the University of Virginia. “Now, the electricity is out of the system. He will still win over younger voters, sure, but not nearly as many of them.” Polls indicate that support among young people for Obama has fallen since 2008, but he still has a major lead over Republican rival Mitt Romney. Latest data shows that about 58 per cent of voters under 30 currently support Obama, compared to 66 per cent in 2008. As new polls indicate that Romney is edging narrowly in front of Obama, every single young vote will matter.