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
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."