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Will Obama's celebrity critics cost him youth votes?

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  February 28, 2012 07:32 AM

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Are celebrities losing interest in President Obama? And will that depress the youth vote?

Not if you ask Bill Maher, who just a few days ago announced he is contributing $1 million to the super PAC backing Obama, Priorities USA. Nor if you ask NBA all-star Vince Carter, who hosted a fundraiser for President Obama at his Florida home last week.

But Matt Damon, Jon Stewart, Barbra Streisand, and Robert Redford have all expressed disillusionment with the president, and Bruce Springsteen recently suggested that he is reluctant to hit the campaign trail for Obama this year. Why? "I still support the president, but there are plenty of things that I thought took a long time and would have been closed by now,” Springsteen said at a press conference.

"[Obama] is more friendly to corporations than I thought he would be,” he said. “There's not as many middle-class or working-class voices heard in the administration."

Disappointing fundraising numbers from Hollywood zip codes aren’t the only reason waning celebrity support should worry the Obama campaign. Tepid backing from celebrities could also translate into less of the buzz around Obama’s candidacy that was a lifeblood of his campaign in 2008, propelling historic youth interest and turnout.

I would never undersell young voters' very real political engagement and concerns, but there's no doubt that the celebrity-fueled enthusiasm reflected in will.i.am's "Yes, We Can" video — “we have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics” — awakened first-time voters to a new political consciousness.


Those cynics (and critics) of hope and change have grown louder three years into the Obama administration. And now even many 2008 Obama supporters, like Springsteen, are tired of waiting for the president to take a sharper stance on economic issues. In the case of young voters, many are frustrated with Obama for not connecting with the populist cause of students on campus: correcting the raw economic deal forcing young people to shoulder massive debt.

Indeed, what would the chorus of such a galvanizing video sing today: "Yes, we did (shrink unemployment by a decimal point or two)"..."We're getting there"..."Don't change horse midstream"?



Sadly, for both Obama and the country's morale, there is little sexy about the politics of pragmatism, half-kept or unfulfilled promises, or two-party trench warfare. 



Winning the message war after the great expectations of "Yes, we can," and the subsequent mixed-at-best results, will be tough. An even harder pill to swallow for Camp Obama may be the electoral fallout among young people from less vibrant celebrity support.

Unless will.i.am is preparing a persuasive encore, the decreasing celebrity song-and-dance surrounding Obama's reelection efforts could well dilute the enthusiasm of young voters — and their eventual turnout in November.

Alexander Heffner covers the 2012 campaign at SCOOP2012.

Jason Reed/Reuters: Singer Bruce Springsteen with then-Senator Barack Obama and family at a 2008 rally in Cleveland.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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