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Among Young Voters, Obama's Campaign Magic Fades

4 years ago
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In the days after Barack Obama was elected in 2008, Kevin Hollinshead hoped the president would become a leader reminiscent of Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- capable of steering the country out of a massive economic crisis while taking on his sharpest critics. But Hollinshead, a senior at Colorado State University, now feels that the president has ceded too much to his Republican opposition and failed to live up to the ideals of his campaign.

"They've decided that he's public enemy No. 1, and they'll do whatever it takes to ruin him," Hollinshead said of Republicans in Congress. "And rather than push back, Obama has a tendency to make all these concessions," he added, citing the lack of a public option in the new health care law and the president's compromise with Republicans this week to extend the Bush-era tax cuts to all earners, including the wealthy.
Hollinshead is one of many college-aged Americans who have begun to pull back their support for the president in recent months. According to an October poll by Harvard's Institute of Politics, 49 percent of voters aged 18 to 29 approve of the president's job performance, down from 58 percent a year ago. The decline has been even sharper among college students. An October AP-mtvU poll reported that 44 percent of college students approve of the president's job performance, down from 60 percent in May 2009.

Those new percentages reflect a significant shift from the election in 2008, when young Americans turned out in record numbers to help elect Obama. According to CIRCLE, an organization that tracks the youth vote, voters aged 18 to 25 preferred Obama over his opponent, Sen. John McCain, by a margin of 68 percent to 30 percent.

In 2008, Obama's campaign made a point of courting young voters and organizers through new media platforms like YouTube and Facebook. The campaign also used the Internet to build a vast network of small donors, which helped it to fund advertising in traditionally Republican states.

This fall, Obama staged a series of rallies on college campuses in an attempt to channel some of the enthusiasm for his campaign into votes for Democrats in the midterm elections. But the effort appeared to come up short. Only 20.4 percent of voters aged 18 to 29 cast ballots last month.

For at least some of the young people who voted for Obama, the past two years have been characterized by steady disillusionment in the wake of a campaign filled with soaring rhetoric and sweeping, but occasionally vague, promises of change.

"I think a lot of people got too excited with anticipation," said Alex Flynn, 21, of Lexington, Ky., referring to the months leading up to the presidential election. "I was probably more excited then because, politics aside, it was a historic moment for the country."

For now, however, the excitement has worn off. "I don't have these illusions of grandeur that he's going to get everything done that he's promised," Flynn said.

"I think everyone really liked him and looked up to him, especially during the election campaign," said Jil Hellmann, 24, of Osnabrück, Germany, who moved to Dallas in 2009. "To me, looking back on how he displayed himself, he was like this white canvass, and everyone projected their ideas onto him."

But in August, when Obama qualified his support for the controversial Islamic community center planned near ground zero – softening his initial statement after it caused a political uproar – Hellmann began to think the president was unwilling to stand by his values.

On the left, the critique that Obama has wavered too easily on core progressive principles was addressed by the president with uncharacteristic emotion during his press conference this week on the new tax cut deal.

"This is the public option debate all over again," Obama said, responding to criticisms that he should have rejected compromise with Republicans on tax cuts for top income earners. "I pass a signature piece of legislation where we finally get health care for all Americans... but because there was a provision in there that they didn't get that would have affected maybe a couple million people, even though we got health insurance for 30 million people... that somehow that was a sign of weakness and compromise."

Jeffry Burnam, a visiting professor of government at Georgetown University, believes that if Obama hopes to win back support in any demographic, the economy must improve first.

"I think it's basically the economy," Burnam said about the cause of the president's declining approval rating. "I think he over-promised, and he didn't deliver the results he had indicated with the stimulus bill."

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Like all magic, campaign magic is also just an illusion.

December 12 2010 at 4:42 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply

If you consider the fact that it took FDR 7 years reduce unemployment from 25% to 20% and that WWII pulled us out of the Great Depression, Obama has actually surpassed FDR's economic performance. Now if the Supreme Court Justices would read the US Constitution and rightfully declare ObamaCare as unconstitutional, he could compete with FDR with respect to attempts to creation of unconstitutional programs.

December 12 2010 at 4:09 PM Report abuse +15 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to olekitch's comment

Huh? Obama hasn't surpassed FDR. The unemployment rate has gotten even worse since he got in office. Also they don't even count unemployment the same anymore. Back then they counted every single person who wasn't working. Now they only count the number of people on unemployment. That makes the unemployment much larger in reality than the government is reporting. Obama is no FDR. Obama has trampled the citizens rights more than any other President. He has done more warrantless wiretaps than Bush ever did. Obama has us being groped and nude pictures taken at airports. He could stop it but he doesn't want to. Now TSA is coming to trains, buses and stadiums. Now TSA wants us to report on our neighbors as well. We are getting closer to 1984 and 1934 Germany ever single day. We loose more and more of our rights by a government who doesn't give a crap.

December 13 2010 at 8:31 AM Report abuse -7 rate up rate down Reply

When I was a teen in high school President Jimmie Carter was President and boy was things bad when he took office. No matter what he did things just didn't seem to go right and he wasn't re-elected. Then came Ronald Reagan and like President Obama he inherited a bad economy and he said the same thing Obama said it's going to take more than 4 years to get the economy back and it may get worse before it gets better. And at first it did get worse but then things changed and it got better. The difference between yesterday and today is everyone in this country came together they did not look at republican or democrat everyone forgot about party lines and came together we where even told when to spend and when not to spend and we did that and the economy rebounded. There was even a gas shortage and cars would be lined up for miles trying to get gas but we made it through. I would hate to say because this president is black that folk would not give him an oppotunity or a fair shake because it seems like some folk where sat down and reminded of an awful fact about this country of who we all are and now give this president hell to get him out of office by trying to make him look bad. The fact of the matter is this country is rebounding and its because Obama like Reagan is sticking to his plan for change. Don't forget america that we all are americans and we should come together again and help get this country back online regardless who is president.

December 11 2010 at 9:29 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

Although I can't say I was ever a huge fan of Obama, I did support him at the beginning. Then I watched decision after decision geared at making the corporations happy and turning his back on average people. He escalated the useless war in Afghanistan, pretended to end the war in Iraq when in reality he took steps to make sure we can never leave. He bailed on universal single payer health care, never stood up for a public option, and delivered 50 million more citizens into the clutches of the health insurance companies under penalty of law. Now he makes the absurd decision to extend Bush's welfare for the wealthy program. He has lost me forever. I will work hard to make sure he does not get reelected. I'll vote for a third party candidate who will lose. I didn't think it could get any worse than to have another Republican president after the horrors of the Bush years, but in reality, there is no difference between the parties.

December 11 2010 at 8:30 PM Report abuse +14 rate up rate down Reply

Support for Obama is surprisingly high considering the all out attack by conservative media and the filibustering republicans in congress. I'm impressed with his determination and he appears unshakable.

December 11 2010 at 7:54 PM Report abuse -32 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to dccwest's comment

Perhaps it's because Obama is unshakable despite the denial of the so called Republicans on this message board. Most of them and many Democrats do not realize that the political philosophy of the two parties is blurred. There really was horror of the worst magnitude with the Bush years but again, there is a great deal of denial on the part of the so called Republicans here.

December 11 2010 at 9:06 PM Report abuse -8 rate up rate down Reply

Unshakable people don't chew out their own constituents and congress members for going against thier desires. He's a very thinskinned person who cannot deal with criticism well.

December 12 2010 at 11:25 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

president Obama had no military experience, an very little experience as a senator. Young people elected him, on his promises. I have no hatred towards Obama but, the lack of experience as a president. But right now i am very scared of what Iran and North Korea will do if we do not have the right President to lead us. I hope the people of the United States will wake up in the next election.

December 11 2010 at 7:28 PM Report abuse +33 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to mick1840's comment

Pray tell what would a President with military experience do differently than one with no military experience. I doubt seriously you can say what with any degree of credibility. Would one with military experience bring about the nuking or more hot air than a non military person. As for no experience as a senator? Big deal. Being President is an on the job learning experience. Obama has a higher degree of ability to learn on the job than someone like Bush did or for that matter, Sarah Palin. Besides, Bush had no military experience,per se. At least with Obama we do not have the knee jerk reactions we had with Bush.

December 11 2010 at 9:12 PM Report abuse -9 rate up rate down Reply


December 21 2010 at 3:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It's not fading, the media is suggesting that in order to make it fade a little.

December 11 2010 at 6:45 PM Report abuse -22 rate up rate down Reply

How foolish of the American people, to think that one man can accomplish miracles. Blame the fools in Washington who are too busy fighting among themselves and care not about the citizens they are supposed to represent..

December 11 2010 at 6:26 PM Report abuse +34 rate up rate down Reply

Roosevelt did not end the DEpression...WWII did.

December 11 2010 at 6:25 PM Report abuse +44 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to asglir's comment

What if compromise made things better..enabled Obama to continue as president and move on to his previous objectives? Why does it have to be all or nothing? When I was young, now 60, I felt very much like the young people of today do...wanting change, wanting and end to the war, wanting all things to be good...well, they never are! We have to find ways for everyone to work together and compromise...bring change in a way that it works for us all....I think Obama jumped in with many changes and that is where the problems lets see what happens now...rather than turn against him, give him a chance.

December 11 2010 at 6:21 PM Report abuse -24 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jlm9's comment

The Republicans should not have bargained with unemployed people's lives in order for the rich to have tax cuts. Then they have the nerve to want to freeze federal pay on federal employees. Doing that is only a drop in the bucket of saving money and it will hurt the economy more because they will be less likely to spend. I don't think anyone, even the state, city, and private industry employees should take a hit!

December 11 2010 at 7:32 PM Report abuse -9 rate up rate down Reply

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