The Corner

Obama Speaks, Young Voters Yawn

Amid cold pizza and forlorn headphones, 30 students huddled around a projector in the Katzell Club Lounge at New York University to watch President Obama’s speech from Madison, Wisc. The College Democrats and Organizing for America — the Obama campaign’s next of kin — held the event to breathe life into young voters, who were integral to the president’s victory in 2008. Notwithstanding Republicans’ suppressed glee, the left-leaning students were cautiously optimistic.

“I’m hopeful — much more hopeful than the press would have me be,” said Josh Schneier, a senior at the college. Asked why the president was in such trouble, Schneier responded: “Expectations were high — much higher than they should have been, though [the president] achieved great things.” Still, Schneier admitted, “He could have pushed for a public option.”

Schneier voiced a complaint common among liberals: “If you pay attention to the news, you never know how things will turn out. [You’re always thinking] ‘Maybe the Democrats will cave.’”

That disappointment, plus the typical disinterest in midterm elections, explains the Democrats’ much-ballyhooed “enthusiasm gap.” Today, Chris Cillizza examined the president’s challenge in dragging young voters from their college dorms to the voting booths:

According to exit polling, young voters made up 18 percent of the electorate in 2008 while they comprised 17 percent of the electorate in 2004. . . .

In the 2006 midterm election, exit polling showed that voters aged 18-29 made up just 12 percent of the electorate. . . . In the 1998 midterm election, young voters comprised a similar 13 percent of the electorate

In short, the youth vote usually drops by a third during midterm elections — not an auspicious trend for Democrats.

But the president did his best tonight to rouse his drowsy supporters. His speech — a mishmash of his favorite soundbites — got a few laughs. Jason Fullen, another senior at the college, said it got him thinking about voting, a thought he hadn’t entertained till now. “[The speech] was fairly partisan but it was very well spoken and it brought back that aura of hope and change.”

Despite the crowd’s freshly brewed moxie, the real problem for these 30 students lay in that same room — that is, the 40 students chattering on couches nearby, lounging in apathy.

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