Democratic Party leaders are hoping to fire up young voters, whose enthusiasm helped propel President Obama's win four years ago. But with dismal job growth and a recent poll revealing waning excitement among younger voters, it might be an uphill battle.
According to an Elon University/Charlotte Observer poll of likely voters conducted before the start of the Democratic National Convention, youth voter excitement lags behind other age groups in North Carolina. Among 18- to 30-year-old voters, 36 percent are "very excited" -- the lowest level of any age group.
The poll also shows 58 percent of N.C. likely voters age 30 and under support Obama versus 34 percent who would vote for Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
"When Barack Obama won in 2008, he carried the youth vote 2-1," said Michael Bitzer, a political science and history professor at Catawba College. "If Romney can eat into that and can make it a 55-45 split, that could swing several key states one way or the other."
The grassroots campaign in university campuses in North Carolina helped Obama win the state by a little over 14,000 votes in 2008, Bitzer said.
But many of the DNC youth delegates last week said there's more enthusiasm coming from young voters supporting Obama now than in 2008.
College Democrats' meetings all over the states' campuses are "absolutely packed," said Charlotte native Elena Botella, 21, a delegate and president of the College Democrats of North Carolina.
Botella, a Duke University senior, said she and other College Democrats will reach out to their peers with a message that will resonate.
"We really aim for messaging around college affordability, one area college students really care about," she said. "There's a clear contrast of Obama making college more affordable and the Romney and (vice presidential candidate Paul) Ryan plan to transfer costs to students and their families and asking them to shop around."
Andy Ball, a councilman from Boone and a DNC delegate last week, also doubts that enthusiasm among young voters is lagging.
"I'm seeing more excitement than before. I think people see the results of Obama's policies in action right now," Ball said.
He cited the Affordable Care Act, which allows young Americans to stay on their parents' health insurance until they're 26.
Ball also said Obama's message of reaching out to the middle class, lowering tuition costs and increasing financial aid resonates with young voters -- even as the federal government issued a subpar jobs report for August on Friday. Though the jobless rate fell to 8.1 percent from 8.3 in July, U.S. employers added 96,000 jobs in August, a weak figure that is driven by 400,000 people that are dropping out of the labor force rather than people finding jobs.
"I think people understand that the recovery is going to be very slow. (The recession) was so severe and so deep ... the fact that we're even gaining any jobs is a positive," said Ball, 29, who is also a national committeeman with the Young Democrats of North Carolina.
He said he and others involved with the YDNC will work the phones on Tuesdays and knock on doors on Saturdays between now and the election to turn out the vote for Obama and other Democratic candidates.
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