By Max Chalkin
Think back to 2007 and 2008: Remember Barack Obama’s first run for the White House? Remember the energy, the t-shirts, the Twitter and Facebook posts? The campaign offered us “HOPE” and “CHANGE,” and we drank it up. College campuses were buzzing about the smooth-talking, slender, good-looking, post-partisan anti-politician who wanted to be the next American president.
In the 2008 election, 66% of 18-29-year-old voters supported the president, according to exit polls -- his strongest age group by far. Next year's campaigns are only just getting underway, but for Obama and his supporters, the numbers paint a grim picture. The president needs major support from that same demographic to win reelection, yet last month, his approval rating among under-30s fell below 50%, according to a Gallop Poll.
It's not really a surprise: Look around you, talk to your friends, and check Facebook and Twitter. You won't see the same posts, tweets, t-shirts, and energy you saw around this time in 2007. So what’s going on?
In 2008, Obama was simply the right person at the right time, said an anonymous Tufts sophomore who has worked in the Colorado State Senate. “The 2008 campaign was an ephemeral moment,” he said. “We had just come off of eight years of Bush, the economy was starting to go downhill, and [John McCain] did an awful job fundraising, messaging, and campaigning."
McCain, the sophomore said, "was old, doddering, uncharismatic, sickly, and his voice sounded high and annoying" -- and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin hurt the campaign more than she helped it. Comparatively, “Obama was smooth, an excellent orator, raised a ton of money from Wall Street and individual donors, and told people what they wanted to hear in broad platitudes. He managed to be all things to all people," he said.
Back in 2008, supporting Obama was the thing to do; plenty of well-known figures backed the president, and he gained a lot of support from social media. The consequence? "People wore Obama shirts and went to Obama rallies, [often supporting him] without knowing the specific [policies he advocated]," said the sophomore.
The president's inability to fulfill the promise of a post-partisan government, which many voters considered a major selling point in his 2008 campaign, also contributes to Gen Y's “Obamapathy.”
“I believe Obama's biggest failing was allowing a culture of partisan bickering to grow and paralyze our national government," said Tufts junior Jon Levinson, an international relations major and former Congressional intern at the U.S. House of Representatives. "He was elected as a unifier, an individual who people believed could rise above petty partisanship, but in the past three years we've seen both parties retreat farther from moderate policies and focus more on knocking the other guy down, than bringing the country up. Maybe in this age of 24-hour cable news and insta-political blogging, where politics has become more of a way to keep score of who's winning and who's losing than it is about governing a country, it was overly optimistic to believe that one person could raise our country above petty political sparring."
In response, the Obama campaign has launched "Greater Together," a new outreach effort that aims not only to rekindle relations with the 18-29-year-olds who helped elect Obama in 2008, but also to pursue the 16 million young Americans who have come of voting age since the last election. The initiative will tap into Twitter, Facebook, and other social media to target students on college campuses in key states, such as the University of Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Penn State. A series of "Obama Student Summits" begins Nov. 2 in Philadelphia, featuring Mayor Michael Nutter and Obama campaign manager Jim Messina.
But will it be enough? The unemployment rate for 20-24-year-olds is hovering around 15%; among 18-19-year-olds, that figure jumps to over 23%. Will these people support an incumbent president who presided over this job market? Only time will tell.
About Max-- Max Chalkin is a recent graduate of Tufts University and is currently working in biotech marketing. His interests include entrepreneurship, technology, politics, food, and nightlife. He is an avid photographer, cook, and scuba diver.
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