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Will the Youth Vote, Crucial to Obama’s Reelection, Actually Go to the Polls?

September 4, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
Ray Suarez talks to young Democrats about why they are still passionate about President Obama, including his progressive stance on social issues and his focus on keeping higher education affordable. But will young people really turn out to vote this November?
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TRANSCRIPT

RAY SUAREZ: For the Obama campaign to work, it needs young people, as volunteers, as voters. People under 30 are crucial.

In 2008, two of every three voters under 30 cast a vote for candidate Obama, making it the largest gap between old and young voters since 1972. Younger voters are more racially and ethnically diverse than the general population and a lot more secular, and those are two big markers for affinity for the Democratic Party.

But they’re also a lot more unemployed. And that represents a big challenge for the Obama campaign. In last month’s jobs report, unemployment for 20- to 24-year-olds stood at 13.5 percent.

Millions of young voting age students aren’t yet in the full-time work force on college campuses — 100,000 college Democrats on 1,200 campuses are headed by this Alejandra Salinas, who heads to law school in the fall.

ALEJANDRA SALINAS, President, College Democrats of America: Well, I think this president came into office and he made a promise to young people that he was going to be our voice.

RAY SUAREZ: Salinas insists she doesn’t see the discouragement and disappointment pollsters are seeing in young adults. College Democrats, she says, are surging.

ALEJANDRA SALINAS: We, as the College Democrats organization, have seen tremendous growth in key battleground states like Florida, Iowa, Colorado, North Carolina, where our presence has grown some 15 chapters to 20 to 30 chapters.

Another great example, if you’re looking at the demographics of who’s going to be here this weekend, there’s going to be over 1,200 youth delegates. That’s an incredible number and a really great example of how energized young people are about this president.

WOMAN: I would like the mayor to step forward.

RAY SUAREZ: Hannah McCarley is one of the young delegates. She just turned 18 yesterday, in time for the convention roll call. About to start her senior year in high school, she decided to run for a spot in West Virginia’s contingent.

HANNAH MCCARLEY, West Virginia Delegate: I ran to be a delegate at the state convention earlier this summer and was elected. And I was very surprised, but very honored.

RAY SUAREZ: McCarley says people like her, preparing to cast their first vote, face a different set of issues from the Iraq war that loomed large last time.

HANNAH MCCARLEY: Some of the issues that weren’t as prominent are now coming into light, so education and health care. So those weren’t things that were an issue during the campaign in 2008, so much as the war in Iraq was, et cetera. But for us, you know, we’re focused on college, we’re focused on health care, we’re focused on equality. And I think those are things that are having more focus.

RAY SUAREZ: At the city’s convention seventh celebration, CarolinaFest, there were signs Democrats can still count on carrying young voters.

COLBY KNECHT: The reaction from the RNC and the Republican picks, the V.P. pick, has really angered a lot of people. I think their platform is very extreme. I go to University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. In two days, we registered almost 200 students just sitting in the university center. And most of them seem like Democratic prospects.

RAY SUAREZ: But will they vote? 

NICOLE MERCHANT, North Carolina: I think a lot of my peers aren’t even voting. I think most of them don’t care yet or don’t feel like they are going to make a difference even if they do vote.

RAY SUAREZ: Knecht says students will see a big difference under a Romney presidency at tuition time.

COLBY KNECHT: You are not going to be able to afford college unless you’re rich. I couldn’t go to college without Pell Grants and scholarships that I get and federal funding. And I think people really — I think students and young people will really take note of that.

RAY SUAREZ: The Obama administration has been touring campuses for weeks and the president is zeroing in on the cost of education. In a campaign visit to Colorado State University, the president talked about his ideas and helping families handle the steadily rising tuition and fees.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think we have got to make sure that we help every single American earn the kind of education you’re earning right here at Colorado State.

RAY SUAREZ: New research from the Pew Center indicates young voting age Americans are no longer as excited or as hopeful about this president, more than 40 points down since 2008.

So young troops will have to work even harder than usual to improve normally low young voter turnout. Alejandra Salinas says College Democrats have the money and the organization they need.

ALEJANDRA SALINAS: Our job as College Democrats is to help create the motivation and excitement and energy about the president, and make sure that they’re out knocking on doors and making phone calls. On campuses across the country, College Democrat are having their first chapter meetings, and 200 to 300 students are in filling lecture halls, screaming fired up, ready to go for President Obama.

Building that energy, talking about the president’s accomplishments and registering as many of your friends as you can is part of what is going to help us win in November.

RAY SUAREZ: Recent polls show Mitt Romney grabbing 40 percent of young voters, still trailing the president, but substantially cutting into the huge Obama lead of 2008.