Some in the media and many Republicans would like it if disillusioned young voters gave up and didn’t vote in 2012. An October 2011 Pew Research Poll showed 62% of young voters favoring President Obama over Mitt Romney. That is only a tiny slip from the 66% of millennials who voted for President Obama in 2008.
Yet the Tennessean chose to focus on a different number today in their article headlined Young voters cool to Obama: College students go from devoted to disenchanted. The article cites another statistic from the same October 2011 Pew Research Poll:
According to the Pew Center, just 13 percent of Americans under 30 have given a lot of thought to the 2012 candidates, down from 28 percent four years ago. That compares with a 42 percent interest level among voters age 66-83.
The reporter interviewed a handful of Tennessee college students, starting with one who admits he’s disillusioned with President Obama and two others who say they’ve ignored the presidential campaign so far. The article then quotes the chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party and the president of the Middle Tennessee State College Republicans. Only in the final third of the article does the reporter note that President Obama’s approval among young voters remains over 50%, with quotes from some supporters and campus organizers.
Have President Obama and Democrats lost young voters?
Most young voters “very excited” about 2012
A January Public Policy Polling survey found that 55% of young voters were “very excited” about voting in 2012. Young voters tied with self-identified conservatives in excitement. The only groups more excited were African Americans and the Tea Party, tied at 62%. Self-identified liberals and Republicans tied at 54%. While men (52%) were more excited than women (48%), the poll was taken was before Republicans erupted in outrage over an Obama administration rule requiring health insurance to cover contraceptive care. The GOP’s outrage, and their outrageous rhetoric, have since awakened a sleeping giant. A mid-February AP/GfK poll showed a 10-point jump in President Obama’s approval rating among women since the start of 2012.
But back to those young voters. How can Public Policy Polling find that 55% of young voters “very excited” about the 2012 election, when Pew Research found that only 13% of those young voters had paid attention to the 2012 candidates?
The obvious answer lies in the data themselves. By a nearly 2-to-1 margin, the Pew Research poll found, young voters favor President Obama and Democrats. In 2008, both major parties had contested primaries and supporters of both parties had ample reason to pay close attention to the candidates. But in 2012, with President Obama the incumbent and certain Democratic Party nominee, Democratic voters have less reason to follow the primary process. A Gallup poll this week showing a slight enthusiasm edge for Republicans included this caveat:
The current data provide a snapshot of voting enthusiasm at a time when political attention is devoted mostly to a fractured Republican field. Where these enthusiasm figures stand after the GOP nomination is decided – and certainly in the fall after the dust settles from both parties’ conventions and news coverage of the two parties has evened out – will be more telling, and could, in fact, be determinant of who wins.
In short, mostly-Democratic young voters are largely ignoring the Republican primary. But Republicans don’t simply wish those mostly-Democratic young voters would stay home in 2012.
Blocking the vote
Republicans are passing ever more stringent voter registration and ID laws to build legal walls between mostly-Democratic voters and the voting booth. They’re even prosecuting a Florida teacher for registering her students:
As Stephen Colbert aptly satirizes, Republicans have given up on claims of existing voter fraud. That’s hardly surprising, as almost every recent case of voter fraud involves Republicans trying to demonstrate that it might happen. As the Brennan Center reports, less than 0.0001% of votes cast are fraudulent. As for the ACLU spokesman’s claim about shark attacks being more common than voter fraud in Florida, PolitiFact Florida rated that “mostly true,” with the usual caveats about not all voter fraud cases being reported and not all of the reported cases being proved.
As the Tampa Bay Times reports, a federal judge heard testimony on Thursday in a lawsuit to overturn Florida’s new voter registration law:
The League of Women Voters, Rock the Vote and the Florida Public Interest Research Group Education Fund went to court late last year to ask the judge to throw out the parts of the law putting new requirements on third-party voter-registration organizations.
Lawyers for the groups argued that the new rules – which include submitting the names of those who work for the organization, having volunteers sign forms agreeing not to break the law and turning in registrations within 48 hours instead of the early state deadline of 10 days – were so hard to comply with that the organizations were largely forced to shut down their registration drives.
Florida Democrats are also pushing the legislature to overturn changes to the state’s early voting rules:
A coalition of African-American legislators is pushing to allow early voting on the Sunday before Election Day, saying a yearslong tradition was eliminated by elections changes approved last year.
In response to the challenges of the 2000 general election, the Legislature greatly expanded early voting in 2002. Black churches began to encourage congregants to vote immediately after Sunday services the weekend prior to any election day, an effort known as “Souls to the Polls,” Sen. Chris Smith, D-Ft. Lauderdale, said. The event sometimes accounted for 20 or 30 percent of all African-American turnout, he said.
But the elections changes approved last year limited early voting hours and restricted early voting within 3 days of an election, which effectively ended “Souls to the Polls.”
“Last year’s elections law took us back,” Smith said.
Seeding a media narrative
When you read a news story like the one in the Tennessean, remember that Republicans have launched an all-out legislative campaign to suppress mostly-Democratic voters. Their voter suppression campaign won’t show up in public opinion polls, as pollsters don’t ask if voters have jumped through the new legislative hoops. Republicans are establishing a media narrative of young voters, women, and persons of color “disillusioned” with President Obama … in case their voter suppression campaign works.
We Democrats must both push back against that media narrative and – more important – work to ensure that young voters, women, and persons of color are ready to vote. Don’t let Republicans turn their “disillusioned voters” myth into suppressed voters reality. Contact your local or state Democratic Party, the Obama/Biden Campaign, Protecting the Vote, or Election Protection and ask how you can help.