Why on earth would young people vote to reelect President Obama? Do they actually like moving back in with Mom and Dad?
The president is touring battleground states, trying to reboot the energy and enthusiasm of his young supporters. The race is on, and one of the few demographics that still tilt decisively in the incumbent’s favor is Americans under the age of 30. A recent poll put Obama ahead of Mitt Romney by 12 points for those between 18-24 years old; among Americans aged 25 to 29, Obama leads by 23 points. Still, that’s a comedown from 2008, when two-thirds of the under-30 set broke for Obama.
Of course, many young people haven’t yet crossed that momentous divide, when they open their first paycheck and wonder – holy cow! – where’d the money go? That yawning divide between what they are paid and what they actually get to spend is more than a foregone iPod: it is testament to the failure of policy makers to set the nation on a sustainable course. It is also a wake-up call to young people: government largesse is not free.
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Mr. Obama is speaking to college students who are doubtless delighted; anything to interrupt the dispiriting job hunt. A recent AP study reveals that half of young college grads are either jobless or underemployed. That daunting prospect may account for some of the fizzle in the president’s balloon. Today’s 24% unemployment among young people is not the "change" they were hoping for; neither are demands that they sign up for healthcare insurance they may not need or want, soaring rents and a leader who ridicules them for wanting to improve their circumstances.
Here’s what kids like: Instagram. Visit any school these days, and you will be struck by students’ excitement about the tech world, about entrepreneurship, about hitting the big one out of the park. They are impatient, possibly spoiled, and wildly optimistic. They see creating the next Facebook, Twitter or Instagram as their future – not plodding up the corporate staircase that their parents once trod.
That’s the world of Mitt Romney, not Barack Obama. Romney has worked hard and made a fortune. He celebrates achievement, and wants to be sure all Americans have a shot at the golden apple. By contrast, Mr. Obama wants to make the poor wealthier by making the wealthy poorer. In his most recent State of the Union address, the president soulfully lamented that the country was “consumed with personal ambition.” He has derided those who seek “the pleasures of riches and fame.” This puzzles young people. They thought becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg was part of the American Dream.
They are also puzzled that the president who appealed to their concerns about the future has failed to address the country’s prospects. They understand that the fiscal alchemy practiced by the White House has left Medicare and Social Security on thin ice and future generations – their generation – on the hook for trillions of dollars.
A recent survey of young people by Harvard’s Institute of Politics showed Millennials most worried about creating jobs and lowering the unemployment rate, followed closely by reducing the federal deficit. Of less importance to this crowd was addressing income inequality or combating the impacts of climate change. Reducing the role of big money in U.S. elections – another Obama theme -- also failed to generate much enthusiasm. Mr. Obama appears out of step.
Young people are impatient, and the president has not delivered. They are idealistic, and deflated by the revelation that their hero is merely mortal, and basely political. They are dismayed that their candidate blames everyone but himself for our faltering recovery. “The dog ate my homework” doesn’t cut it in school, but appears to have legs in the Oval Office.