During one of my classes last week, my professor decided to take a quick poll. The question he asked was whether you A) approved of President Barack Obama’s performance thus far as president B) disapproved of Obama’s performance thus far as president or C) did not care. The response was that 26 percent of the class approved of Obama’s performance thus far, 34 percent disapproved and 40 percent did not care. The problem isn’t the fact that more kids disapproved than approved of Obama’s job — it’s that 40 percent simply didn’t care enough to express an opinion.
Normally this breakdown would not be that odd considering that the American youth rarely devotes much attention to politics. However, this poll was taken in a Ford School of Public Policy class — a class in which students are almost unanimously interested in politics and government. Also, let us not forget that we go to the University of Michigan — one of the more liberal and politically affluent public universities in the country. So here is the problem: If young people in a public policy course at the University of Michigan do not care about what the president has or has not done, then who does?
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama was able to harness the youth vote better than any candidate in recent American history. His undeniably exceptional oratory skills captured young audiences across America, and students organized in record numbers to support him. On his platform of “hope” and “change,” Obama was able to convince my generation that he represented an alternative to the status quo. And sure enough, we believed him. According to Civicyouth.org, an organization that promotes raising youth voter turnout, 51 percent of people ages 18 to 29 voted in the 2008 election, which is the highest voter turnout for this demographic since 1972. Furthermore, 66 percent of these young people voted for Obama and volunteered more extensively than any other age group. These young people not only gave Obama their vote, but many of them worked painstakingly to lobby other people to do the same. It’s almost impossible for one to deny the colossal effect that young Americans had on securing Obama’s 2008 election victory.
Unfortunately, times haven’t changed. We’re still at war with Afghanistan and Iraq, Guantanamo Bay is still open and tuition prices have only continued their ridiculous climb. These issues, among many others, are the reasons young people have given up on American politics. This compounded by the seemingly daily fiasco of watching our politicians stubbornly refuse to work together has turned so many people in my generation away from politics. Many people believed Obama would represent a new era in modern politics. More specifically, young people supported Obama because they believed he was the first major presidential candidate that actually understood and cared about the problems of America’s youth. Sadly, the “hope” and “change” we were promised simply wasn’t as drastic as we would have liked. The worst part about this is that it’s not entirely Obama’s fault. In reality, it’s ours.
Obama has made some fantastic strides during his time as president. Allowing kids to stay on their parent’s health insurance until age 26, reforming credit card law and hunting down Osama bin Laden all benefited Obama’s young voters terrifically. However, to put it bluntly, we were promised more. Many of the young people who supported Obama expected everything to be fixed after he was elected. After all, we were promised 5 million green jobs, an effective health care system and financial reform that benefit those who need it, not those who need another yacht. Call it naïveté, call it just plain stupid, but unfortunately we set our sights way too high.
The mesmerizing and electric 2008 presidential campaign simply cannot be recreated for the 2012 election. These young voters aren’t going to vote for the Republican nominee. They just aren’t going to vote at all. And that is where the problem lies. Obama, in order for you to be re-elected in 2012, you must reignite the passion within America’s youth, and unfortunately, this might just be impossible.
Patrick Maillet is an LSA sophomore.