Watters: Obama has lost some of his luster

Arabella Watters

In 2008, I was a high school sophomore. At 15 years old I wasn’t even close to voting, but I was transfixed by President Barack Obama’s ability to ignite and unite our nation. In the election against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), 68 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 preferred Obama. The 2008 election had the largest turnout of young voters ever, only giving further evidence of the pull that Obama had over the nation’s youth. I credit him for bringing together our population at a point when things seemed to be crumbling around us. Obama was elected in the throes of one of the worst financial downturns of the last few decades. I believe he was elected because the young people of America believed he could save us. Obama took on the role of a hero for a lot of the population, many of whom were voting for the first time. Sixty-five percent of first-time voters prefered Obama. That’s where things got messy. Fast forward four years and Obama has lost traction in the polls among young voters. The question is, is he down enough for Mitt Romney to take advantage? Does Mitt Romney even have the capacity to grasp the hearts and minds of young voters like Obama did? Recent poll data from the Public Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs showed that less than half of voters between the ages of 18 and 24 wanted Obama to be reelected. Against a proposed “generic republican” candidate, he leads by 7 percentage points. Although Obama still has a lead, it is far less substantial than the one he had aginst McCain. Obama’s drop in youth popularity is especially interesting considering the tumultuous nature of his presidency. His greatest claims to fame have been his health-care plan (which extended the cutoff for using one’s parents’ insurance), his withdrawal of the troops from Iraq, the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the successful assassination of Osama bin Laden. I am not discrediting any of these achievements. I applaud them. But it strikes me as odd that his popularity has decreased in their context. They are all very obvious achievements that don’t require age or education to appreciate. The answer may lie in the fact that the recession took a toll on both the pockets and the morale of young people across the country. A February Pew Research Center study titled “Young, Underemployed, and Optimistic” found that since 2010, the number of young adults who are currently employed (54 percent) is at its lowest since data collection began in 1948. Forty-nine percent of voters between 18 and 34, said they have taken a job they didn’t want just to pay the bills. Twenty-four percent have taken an unpaid job or internship to gain experience. These staggering figures shed a little bit of light on why Obama doesn’t seem as appealing as he did four years ago. The majority of his triumphs have made huge leaps and bounds for social policy, but he has put a Band-Aid on a bullet wound in terms of healing our economy before hanging it upside down to let it bleed out. At the end of 2007 1.2 million citizens had been out of work for six months or longer, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Today, the long-term unemployment number is 5.3 million, as of March. If that doesn’t suggest the opposite of economic healing than I don’t know what does. The possibilities that things may not get better under another term with Obama is settling in as a painful reality. However, relative to Romney, as opposed to that “general Republican candidate,” Obama is far more popular. Fifty-two percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 24 have a favorable opinions of Obama, while only 32 percent of the same demographic feel favorably towards Romney. Romney’s propensity to lean more conservatively on his social platform alienates him from a young voter. So does his immense, seemingly inconceivable wealth. As a college student, I can’t relate to any of that. I tend to like my social policy relatively liberal and have no source of discernable income at this moment. Romney feels incredibly irrelevant to myself as a student, yet I do not trust Obama with my savings, my future mortgage or my employment possibilities. As a young person who was sincerely excited for Obama to be elected four years ago, I’ve found that his lack of dexterity with the economy has left a considerably sour taste in my mouth.