One of the most remarkable things about the 2008 presidential election was the amount of young people who voted. Young voter turnout was at 53 per cent, meaning that 23 million 18-29-year-olds voted in that election. There were more young voters in 2008 than seniors voting.
For Obama this was particularly important as, although he lost the senior vote 53-47, he won the young vote 66-33. By broadening the voter base, Obama won his victory and energised a generation.
The challenge for 2012 is to create the same energy and turn out in that demographic base and make sure that they vote Democrat. With student debt piling up and no jobs on the horizon, the past few years has not given those young people looking for substantial change much to go on.
There was one policy, however, that had a major impact on the young electorate. Though the Republicans succeeded in pushing the majority of Obamacare’s implementation until 2014, the president did win in making sure that young adults can stay on their parents’ healthcare policies until they are 26. This is huge – health insurance is a massive cost and if one cannot find a job after leaving school, they can still be safe and secure in the knowledge that they have a buffer when it comes to their health for a little while longer.
While the president’s re-election campaign will, I hope, stress this point to every young voter, they also need to find policies that will motivate the student base once more to become activists for the campaign and get out the vote in their age bracket. If they fail to do this, Obama’s campaign is in serious trouble.
This might be the motivation behind the President’s Executive Order today to help students consolidate their federal student loan debt and max out repayments at 10 per cent of discretionary income. Unless the Republicans nominate someone who terrifies the majority of the electorate outside their base, which is looking less likely, Obama needs to keep doling out the carrots for the young voting base.
Twenty years ago, pollsters and political strategists would tell you that victory lay in focusing on the old and ignoring the young. 2008 demonstrated that when motivated, the youth vote can even trump that of seniors. So alongside the challenges to social security and Medicare, expect more policy initiatives that speak to the younger voter crowd. They care more about their future than most have expected, and substance will appeal to them more than FourSquare and Twitter.