On College Campuses, Obama's Not Cool Anymore

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President Obama poll numbers are nearing the levels he enjoyed in 2008, with one glaring exception: young people. Especially young white people.  His approval rating is at 56 percent approval rating among people ages 18 to 29. That's higher than the 51 percent national average, but that's a decline of 10 points compared to the 2008 exit polls, according to the National Journal's Ronald Brownstein report. And if you want a look into the reason for the slump in one of the demographic groups that most strongly embraced Obama in 2008, it may be this: Obama's simply not cool anymore. 

The New York Times' John Vinocur finds ample anecdotes to flesh out that theory at Oberlin College, a campus that prides itself for its brand of hipster left-wing activism. Among Vinocur's data points: Four undergrad editors at The Oberlin Review signed an essay lamenting that most students had opted out of agitating, unlike alums who protested slavery and the Vietnam war. A symposium last month called "Oberlin-based Perspectives on the Obama Presidency" noted that students don't think Obama's cool anymore--all his cute little quirks have become grating, a polisci professor explained, and the real Obama can't live up to their idea of him. Students aren't even impressed that Osama bin Laden was killed, protesting that the world's most wanted terrorist was unarmed when he was shot. Vinocur writes that although disaffection at Oberlin is "a speck of confetti in a storm of pre-2012 election indicators in America... it's also a fact that Mr. Obama's most diligent canvassers in 2008 often came from the country's campuses." Brownstein, too, notes that the lack of youth enthusiasm is "worrisome" and could be related to young people's higher unemployment rates. 

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But perhaps Obama shouldn't get too worked up about all the kids still living in their parents' basements. Aside from hurting the president's aura of cool, maybe it doesn't really matter that the under-30 crowd isn't excited about Obama? Despite all the buzz young voters got in 2008, they weren't critical to Obama's victory.

Voters aged 18 to 24 turned out at a rate of 49 percent in 2008, compared to 47 percent four years earlier--a statistically significant, but still small increase, according to the Census Bureau. Pew Research's Scott Keeter, Juliana Horowitz, and Alec Tyson explain that without the youth vote, Obama would have lost North Carolina and Indiana, but he still would have won crucial states Ohio and Florida. In the latter states, young people's share of the electorate actually decreased by 4 percent. Yes, Obama's huge get out the vote operation reached out to way more young voters than McCain's campaign--25 percent compared to 13 percent--but Obama didn't neglect the old folks. His campaign reached 55 percent of seniors in Virginia, for example compared to McCain's 45 percent.

Update: The Obama campaign pushes back against the idea that young people have stopped caring, pointing to its summer organizer program, which got more applications this year than any other--including 2008.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.