Is Obama really in trouble with young voters?
posted at 12:02 pm on April 26, 2012 by Karl
Less than half of 18-to-24-year-old voters want Obama to win reelection, and he leads a generic Republican candidate by just 7 percentage points, according to a survey of youth voter attitudes released Thursday by the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.
The poll did not test Obama against Romney directly, but found more enthusiasm for Obama than Romney. The Hill’s Amie Parnes found a somewhat different result in another poll:
Obama leads presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney 60 percent to 34 when it comes to the youth vote, according to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. But Obama’s enthusiasm has taken a nosedive, the poll shows. In 2008, 63 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds took a big interest in the election. Four years later, 45 percent have the same level of interest, reflecting the most sizable drop in one of the major voting groups.
Yahoo’s Chris Moody reports on yet another survey:
The wide-ranging survey of 3,096 18-29 year-olds conducted by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics shows 43 percent said they plan to vote for Obama in November, while just 26 percent plan to vote for Romney. The last time Harvard matched Obama against a GOP challenger, in December 2011, they asked who young voters thought would win the election: 36 percent said Obama would lose, a sign that support for Obama is increasing closer to the election.
However, Obama’s approval rating has dipped by six percentage points from Obama’s first year in office, according to a Harvard poll taken in November 2009, from 52 percent to 58 percent. That could be a sign that the youth vote is far more up for grabs in 2012 than it was in 2008, when Obama overwhelming won the youth vote.
As John Sides notes, these types of stories should always be read in the context of a number of polls, as well as the broader population and other demographics. Sides notes that a recent Pew poll has Obama over Romney 61%-33% among 18-29 year-olds, in comparison to Obama’s 66%-33% victory with the demographic in the 2008 exit poll. Those numbers better for Obama than some of the polls cited above, but what Sides notes is that Obama’s numbers now are down 3%-5% among all of the age demographics from the 2008 exit poll results. Moreover, as Andrew Gelman notes, nonuniform swings are difficult to detect in a survey, because they have a larger margin of error. In short, Obama’s problem with young voters is likely reflective of Obama’s problem with voters generally.
So why is Obama wooing college students and slow jamming the news with Jimmy Fallon at taxpayer expense this week? Because Team Obama, like most everyone, is anticipating a much closer election in 2012 than in 2008. If Obama were to drop from 66% to the level of youth support John F. Kerry got in 2004 (~54%), he would lose ~2% of the overall vote, which he likely cannot afford. We cannot know this for certain. Obama’s 2008 performance with young voters was tied in part to his boost in performance and turnout of minority voters. Conversely, we do not know whether the Republican-leaning youth vote was particularly depressed. While the latest raft of polls might look like Obama’s youth vote has softened, the GOP should not take it for granted any more than Obama does.