Does Obama Need the Youth Vote To Win?

By Bianca Brooks

We interviewed pollster and strategist Dr. Anna Greenberg, Senior Vice President at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, who works with campaigns to get out their message, and has expertise in youth voting trends.

Youth Radio: Could you tell us exactly how important the youth vote will be in winning this election?

Anna Greenberg: The youth vote is quite important for Obama being re-elected. In presidential years, the under 30 vote is almost one fifth of the electorate. So almost one fifth of all voters are under 30. In 2008 he won 66% of voters under the age of 30. That was the biggest margin ever for a Democratic presidential candidate since we’ve had exit polls. Currently, he’s polling well below that with young voters at about 55% — and it’s even lower in the congressional elections.

He really has to make up for those votes among older voters if he can’t increase the margin among young voters.

Youth Radio: If Obama is polling worse among voters, is Romney polling better?

Greenberg: Romney is doing better than McCain did among younger voters. In other words, it’s not that they’re just undecided or maybe not voting, it’s that they’re more likely to support Romney. Romney is more vibrant, a younger sort of figure. Romney is speaking to concerns young people have around their economic future, that they may not see Obama addressing. It’s a critical segment of the vote. He’s not doing as well as he did in 2008, and I think they need to and probably will make huge efforts with younger voters.

[Caption below: Jean-Patrick Grillet is a volunteer at the DNC. He’s an Independent — the kind of voter the Obama campaign needs to sway in November.]

Youth Radio: They’re saying this is the most youth-friendly convention they’ve had thus far. Do you see that here in Charlotte?

Greenberg: I have to believe that [candidates] are making a special effort to get youth voters. Note that [President Obama] went to three college campuses during the Republican convention. I’m sure that it’s in part a reflection of their campaign strategy. I don’t know what it means to be friendly to the youth vote. Seems to me speaking to the economic concerns younger people have — whether it’s being in college or graduating with crushing debt, or not having a college education and having no economic opportunity. That strikes me as the conversation that younger people want to have.

Youth Radio: So is the focus on young people about image for the Obama campaign, or is it vote-driven?

Greenberg: I don’t think this is image-driven. Obama is relatively young. He was under 50 when he was elected president. He represents the future. He’s a multi-racial man, which is the future of America. So I don’t think he needs to project a youthful, energetic vision per se.

This is going to be a very close election. Part of the reason it’ll be closer than 2008 is that he’s getting 55% of young voters and not 66%. So I actually think there has to be a concerted effort to win some of those voters or it’s much harder to get re-elected.

Youth Radio: What does Obama need to do to get the youth vote?

Greenberg: I think the president needs to speak to their economic concerns, which are different than people who are older. If you are pre-retirement or retirement age, you are anticipating or currently supported by the social security Medicare system and that’s obviously a very important piece of the debate about the Ryan budget. And that’s fine, but it doesn’t speak to where younger people are.

You have the highest unemployment rate among young people, especially minority youth. They have the highest unemployment rates, high student debt, college is unaffordable. He will have to offer a vision.


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