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Obama's Town Halls Target Young Voters -- But Are the Kids Tuned In?

4 years ago
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This week, the president logged considerable time trying to determine whether the kids are alright -- or in fact, whether the kids don't stand a chance. Speaking at two youth-focused town halls in an effort to gin up his base of 18- to 29-year-old voters, Obama took his message to millennials at George Washington University (on Tuesday) and BET studios in Washington (on Thursday) for an MTV-sponsored forum.

With little more than two weeks to go before the midterm elections, the president was making his appeal to a base that remains strong in its support: though approval for the president among this age group has slipped from an initial 66 percent approval rating immediately after the election, 18- to 29-year-olds still gave Obama a 57 percent approval rating as recently as last month.

What's more, according to Pew research, these millennial voters are more strongly allied with core, liberal Democratic principles than any group since the post-WW II "Greatest Generation." A poll conducted by left-leaning NDN think tank showed millennials care most about the economy, education, health care, and financial reform -- areas the president has tackled with brio in his first 22 months in office.

Barack ObamaThe events this week were both small, in-the-round style meetings with Obama in center stage fielding questions from a variety of media, aimed at engaging the youth of America where they (purportedly) live these days: Twitter, Skype and the Internet. There were even a few, old-fashioned questions asked in person.

At George Washington, the Democratic National Committee-sponsored town hall featured an audience of 125 mostly college-aged students and was characterized largely by softball questions. The president was asked about the effect of corporate money on elections -- he weighed in on special interest money, alluding to the recent White House campaign against conservative groups including Chamber of Commerce and America Crossroads.

He was asked about how to get voters to the polls in November ("This election is a choice . . . the other side stands for the same failed policies that got us into this mess in the first place," etc).

One question was such a giveaway -- "Can we inform people that the campaign slogan was 'Yes, We Can,' not 'Yes, We Can in 21 Months'?" -- that Obama had to acknowledge it as such. "Well, that's sort of a softball," he said. "But I appreciate it."

Thursday's event in front of an audience of 225 college and university-aged students, broadcast on MTV, CTV and BET -- as well as their online properties -- was significantly more contentious. The president fielded questions about the lack of bipartisanship in Washington, the economy ("If the economy does not improve over the next two years, why should we vote you back in?"), the seemingly complicated White House actions around "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the nation's dwindling Social Security funds, illegal immigration, and race relations -- including Muslim-American tensions.

On both evenings, the questions elicited thoughtful, professorial responses from the president. He stayed on message, outlining his administration's accomplishments in education reform, health care reform and financial reform. He urged voters to take to heart the notion that this was an important election -- he didn't go so far as to use the well-worn "Republicans have driven the car into the ditch, Democrats have pulled it out" metaphor -- but the tenor of his responses was much the same as it has been in the backyard town halls (target demographic: baby boomers) that he's been having for the last few months.

In fact, with the exception of the unlined faces, the Tweets and Skyped-in calls, these "forums for the kids" weren't all that different than the ones geared toward their parents. Looking back at the enthusiasm and pageantry that characterized Obama's campaign in 2008, what became most clear this week was the sharp difference between ralllying supporters as a candidate and as an elected official. For college students looking to feel the tingle of "Yes We Can" running up their spines, the town halls left them with little more than "Yes We We Will Continue To Work On It But Please Be Patient Because This Stuff Is Pretty Tricky."

And anyway, at the end of the day, it's not so clear just how pivotal the youth vote will be in determining who wins Congress this November: while various polls have shown the percentage of millennials likely to vote ranging from 78 percent to 45 percent, the reality is that their highest turnout on record for a midterm election was a much lower 31 percent in 1982. In 2006, only 25.5 percent of them voted -- which was an improvement on the previous two midterm elections.

More telling is this number: Pew found that only 31 percent of young voters are giving "a lot of thought" to this year's election. For a group inclined to hit the snooze button on midterm elections, those politicians hoping they'll wake up for this one might need to rethink the alarm bell.

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A three trillion dollar deficit this President has run up in less than two years in office , More than all presidents combined who have ever held office . Today we inched back up to 10% unemployed and people have the gaul to to say things are getting better . Wait till all the taxes kick in next year college graduates , Think you will a hard time finding a job when you are out of school ? How will you pay your school debt ? How will your grandchildren pay there debt that they have when they are not even been born yet ? If you listen to the president yesterday he is now blaming the American voter for not being clever enough to figure that he is doing the right thing ! Before it was Bushes fault , It was the Republicans , It was the Rich , It was Wall street But as of yesterday it's your fault !

October 19 2010 at 1:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Obama is one of the best presidents we have had in a long time..These young students are smarter than what you think and they know better than to vote back in the scoundrels, republicans, who caused this mess....8yrs of Bush/Cheney. The economy is starting to improve, the stock market is improving and people are starting to find jobs not just through the stimulus package but also through the private sector. Obama said all along that it was going to take time. I have one question for any college student on you think that you are too young and not smart enough to vote as most of the republicans on this site are saying about you?

October 18 2010 at 11:45 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to christierandall's comment

They maybe better educated but that alone does not make them any smarter nor wiser . What good is an education if you can't make wise decisions for the future . You say the economy is getting better well every data report says other wise . Today we reached the 10% mark again and you say the economy is getting better ? We all know it will get better someday but so far it is not getting better thanks to who ?

October 19 2010 at 1:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It is pretty pathetic that our revered President decides to focus his attention in the waning days before the election on college students who for the most part have never held down a full time job, have never vexed about losing a job, have never worked two jobs just to make ends meet, have no idea what it is like to balance a household budget, have no idea what it is like to be foreclosed upon, have no idea what it is like to know if you are going to be able to retire. I guess our President is concentrating on the automatons who are insulated from the real world and who are ill informed on the salient issues of the day.

October 18 2010 at 10:26 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

It's just been reported that the Obama admin and this Democrat held congress and senate have run up a 3 trillion dollar deficit for all these college kids and there grandchildren , If they don't see the writing on the wall then there so called education was for not .

October 18 2010 at 6:57 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply

College students today act and behave like high school kids. They lack any initiative and self reliance, they know that it doesn't matter today that you are suppose to develop charactor and be responsible. The government has that covered. If they fail, someone will bail them out. It is pathetic. Is it any wonder he goes to them for campaigning? He knows how vulnerable and pliable they are. There just isn't any incentive to be strong minded. Whatever happened to the school of hard knocks? Pick yourself up by the bootstraps and keep going. No wonder there are so many misguided young adults out there. I'm beginning to think I was a totally abusive parent to my children. Gee, they all graduated and had to pay for their own college attendance, they all had to hold down jobs while in school, had to have health insurance in place, auto insurance and had to make sure they could support themselves adequately. Guess what, they turned out normal and every one of them are stout hearted conservatives. Boy where did I go wrong?

October 18 2010 at 4:00 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to truthforfreedom's comment

Students today impress me as more mature and engaged than some previous generations. I know for sure they are comparing what was promised two years ago to what they see today, and worry about finding jobs that could lead to a career.

October 19 2010 at 10:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It doesn't take genius for young people to see the mounting debt being accumulated by the government and to come to the conclusion that they are going to have to pay for it. Our deficits are not going to magically disappear. They are going to have to be paid for at some point. If I were a young person, I wouldn't be listening to anyone from my generation talking about spending more money. Young people are inexperienced, and perhaps a bit naive, but they are not stupid.

October 18 2010 at 2:12 PM Report abuse +14 rate up rate down Reply

just another one of obama's MANY failures ,Now Obama states that there is no such thing as a shovel ready job even though he used the term constantly since the campaign of 2008

October 18 2010 at 12:14 PM Report abuse +16 rate up rate down Reply

obama's done enough damage

October 18 2010 at 12:13 PM Report abuse +16 rate up rate down Reply

Who is running the country while he is day in and day out chanting at these rallys and fundraisers? Biden?

October 18 2010 at 12:06 PM Report abuse +12 rate up rate down Reply

Its amazing that every day this man can do something to prove he is not worthy of the office he holds...I'm starting to believe that deep down, even Obama knows he is way over his head and too inexperienced to be an effective leader.

October 18 2010 at 11:57 AM Report abuse +16 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to barney2022's comment

Does anyone remember the picture of Obama leaving a meeting with President Bush right after the election? You know it's the meeting where the newly elected president has with the outgoing president, all behind closed doors, just the two of them. The expression on Obama's face was a look of sheer terror, like he had just left a KKK rally. I honestly believe, it was at that point Obama realized he couldn't handle the job. I knew then and there we were screwed.

October 18 2010 at 9:05 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply


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