Four years ago, Barack Obama’s promise of change unleashed enthusiasm on college campuses and sent student voters to the polls. But this election year, more young people are sitting on the sidelines.
In 2008, 66 percent of the voters under 30 cast their ballots for Barack Obama.
Only a small number of students on The University of Texas at Arlington campus voted early, and there’s not a lot of talk about the presidential election. Political science Professor Allen Saxe says he can feel the difference.
“There was tremendous intensity on college campuses. I remember students here on our campus at UT Arlington; some of the students wore t-shirts with President Obama’s face imprinted on the t-shirt and they were proud,” Saxe said. “There was an enthusiasm that I haven’t seen for politics since the 1960s. This year it’s very different and the intensity is gone, it’s just gone.”
UT Arlington student Puthi Sok doesn’t even remember if she registered to vote.
“I don’t think I registered to vote,” Sok said. “Um, I think I might have registered so I’m going to check and if I did I will vote, but I think I kind of forgot about it."
For senior Calandria Watkins, the thrill of 2008 is gone.
“The first election because it was my first time to vote so obviously it was more exciting then. Now it’s more, I guess I’ve got to go do that now,” Watkins said. “Obviously one of the two are going to win, it’s going to be either Mitt Romney or Obama, and I guess Obama is the lesser of two evils.”
A Pew Research Center survey found that this year the number of voters under 30 who are following campaign news is about half of what it was in 2008. And only 50 percent of young voters are certain they are registered to vote. That’s a drop from 2008, when 61 percent said they were registered.
Matthew Wilson, Associate Professor of Political Science at Southern Methodist University, says President Obama is no longer a rock star.
“Young voters will still almost certainly give him a majority of their votes, but that incredible excitement that sense of something profoundly new happening in American politics has really worn off. And the difference is nowhere as dramatic as it is among young voters,” Wilson said.
Researchers at the Pew Center say the under-30 vote didn’t swing the election for Obama in 2008, but the enthusiasm felt on campuses did something more. It produced hundreds of young, energetic campaign volunteers who may have influenced their parents and other older voters.
And who knows what effect that difference - or indifference -will make this year.