Visits by President Obama and Vice President Biden to college campuses this week are an attempt to reach an audience that candidates have largely ignored. Campaigns are failing to reach out effectively to potential voters under age 30, unlike the presidential election in 2008.
Two years ago, more than 2.5 million young people registered to vote. But about two-thirds of them now say they’re more cynical about politics, a survey by Rock the Vote reported. About one in four people under 30 in Pennsylvania aren’t registered to vote; the deadline is Monday. New Jersey’s deadline is Oct. 12. (Find registration information at www.rockthevote.com.)
This untapped pool of potential voters is large, but candidates are not making meaningful appeals. Colin Hicks, state coordinator of Rock the Vote, hasn’t seen a candidate visit the seven Philadelphia-area campuses where he organizes voter-registration efforts. Students and young adults feel they’re being taken for granted in this election. And the weak economy is their top concern. “The job issue is everything to this age group,” said Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, in an interview with the Inquirer’s Editorial Board. “They’re dreamers with no jobs.”
Young voters tend to be attracted to a candidate rather than a political party; in 2008 many of them participated in the election because of Obama. The RTV survey indicates that people under 30 still generally like Obama, and his endorsement would make them more likely to vote for a candidate. But they’re disappointed that Obama hasn’t done more in two years. Of the respondents who said they won’t vote on Nov. 2, about 70 percent said corporate interests have too much power and prevent real change.
Young voters aren’t ready to walk away, but they feel many candidates aren’t speaking to them.