A few months before I started this blog – I believe it was mid-November 2008 – and was still doing campus radio at the University of Winnipeg, I warned my listeners that if President Obama failed to live up to his own hype, we could hold him responsible for an entire generation of young and new voters becoming and staying apathetic. If this article is to be believed, that’s already happening. Obviously you can’t expect any incumbent president to duplicate the enthusiasm of their base for a second term. But this could run much deeper than simply getting used to the guy.
The article notes that, according to a recent Gallup poll, the percentage of Americans in the 18-29 age bracket who plan to vote this cycle has dropped by 16 points since this time in 2008. The other evidence in the article is anecdotal: campus organizers who have far fewer people to organize, an absence of election posters, a general tone of disenchantment. I want to point to a particular quote from Ethan Weber from Miami University:
Lots of people thought President Obama could go in and break gridlock and that didn’t happen. That’s the scariest thing to a lot of young people — that nothing is going to happen.
Sure, that’s what Obama promised to do. But when you think about it, how effective can most presidents be at breaking gridlock when they have a misbehaving Congress to deal with? If any president has been able to rise above this, what did they have that Obama doesn’t, and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) hasn’t proven himself to have?
The need to answer that question highlights a ripe opportunity for the voices of nonpartisanship and pragmatism in American politics. Young voters, especially disaffected ex-Obamans, are among the first to ask why these idiots aren’t buckling down to serious business. If No Labels and similar state-based groups can capture their attention before they say “Eff this ess” to politics, we can create a truly worthwhile student movement. These voters are perhaps the most fearful of high debt and a weak job market; thousands of them have their own experience with both and don’t know when it will end, or when politicians will start speeding up the ending process.
The good that can come out of the end to Obama-mania is the chance to get apathetic students to stop looking for celebrity candidates and start looking for statesmen. As for the party hacks, most of them give up on hackery after graduation; the sooner they’re introduced to a healthy next step in political thinking, the better. The worst centrists can do is focus exclusively on middle-aged voters. If we can’t make old politicians want to be centrists, we can make young people want to be centrist politicians.