President Obama's re-election campaign launches an initiative this week aimed at rekindling the connection with younger voters that helped fuel his 2008 campaign.
The outreach effort, called "Greater Together," will tap Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites and target students on college campuses in key states, such as the University of Wisconsin, Ohio State University and Penn State.
The initiative's website will go up Tuesday, and the first of a series of "Obama Student Summits" will be held Nov. 2 in Philadelphia, featuring Mayor Michael Nutter and Obama campaign manager Jim Messina. The summit and future ones on other campuses will solicit questions and feedback on a live Twitter feed.
Heading the initiative is Valeisha Butterfield-Jones, former executive director of Russell Simmons' Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and a daughter of Democratic Rep. G. K. Butterfield of North Carolina.
"The president has traditionally done very well with young voters, and there are several million voters who weren't old enough to vote in the last election," Messina said in an interview. "He's very popular with that demographic."
The campaign has or plans similar outreach efforts as part of a program called "Operation Vote" targeting African Americans, Jews, Hispanics and others who make up the base of Obama's electoral coalition. Generating enthusiasm among his most supportive groups will be critical to offset the losses he's suffered in approval among other voters, including whites and independents.
Obama's standing with younger voters also has dropped amid economic problems that have left young people with jobless rates much higher than their elders. The unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-olds is 14.7%, and for 18- to 19-year-olds a staggering 23.3%. Growing numbers of recent college graduates have moved back to live with their parents.
In 2008, 66% of voters under 30 supported Obama, by far his strongest age group, according to surveys of voters as they left polling places on Election Day. Last month, his approval rating in the Gallup Poll among that age group dipped below 50 percent.
What's more, young voters are the least reliable age group for voting unless inspired by a particular candidate, as many were by Obama in 2008.
"They're not loyal to institutions; they're not loyal to candidates," cautions Nathan Daschle, a Democratic strategist who has founded a political website called ruck.us. "He can disappoint them, and if they're disappointed with him, they're not going to vote."
In important ways, Obama's strategists see common ground between the president and voters under 30. Younger Americans are more racially and ethnically diverse than older ones, more liberal on social issues such as same-sex marriage, and more supportive of government activism.
Of special interest to the Obama campaign: new voters who were too young to cast a ballot in 2008.
There are about 16 million young Americans in that category, the 2010 Census found, and about half of them are registered to vote.
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