Young Voters Could Again Play Key Role in US Election

Cindy Saine
President Barack Obama has said young voters were crucial to his victory over Republican John McCain in 2008. In 2008, they turned out in record numbers. Four years later, enthusiasm on college campuses for the contest between Obama and Republican Mitt Romney seems less visible. Both campaigns are reaching out to voters between the ages of 18 and 29.

At the University of Maryland near Washington D.C., young Democrats meet to phone voters in nearby "battleground states" - states that tend to swing between Democratic and Republican candidates.

Maryland itself tends to vote Democratic in presidential races.

Engaging college voters

Surveys show that young people are less engaged this year than in 2008. But at Maryland, College Democrat President Tyler Grote said there is a lot of enthusiasm for Obama.

"People are very passionate about what they believe in, especially when there are people with two very different approaches for how they want to run this country," said Grote.

A few hundred Maryland students turned out to watch the first presidential debate between Obama and Romney.

College Republican Caroline Carlson said the economic situation has dampened the president's appeal.

"In 2008 it was all about hope and change. They thought they were voting for a celebrity, whereas now, they realize when they are graduating from college, I think the unemployment rate for people who are 20-24 is about 14 percent, which is pretty high," said Carlson.

Courting youth

The Romney campaign is trying to win over young voters who turned out for Obama in 2008 by highlighting the economic situation.

Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan appealed to young voters in his convention speech in Tampa.

"College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get on with their lives," said Ryan.

The president has visited a number of college campuses and has spoken about keeping student loans affordable. He asked Ohio students for their votes.

"And if you're with me and if you work with me, we will win Wood County again. We'll win Ohio again. We will finish what we started," said Obama.

Taking notice of campaigns

Young voters traditionally favor Democrats. Heather Smith is president of the non-partisan group "Rock the Vote," which organizes rock concerts and voter registration drives on college campuses.   

She said young people who turned 18 since the last election are different from those four years ago.

"They have to be engaged by the candidates to show up and repeat the record-breaking decision-making impact that their older brothers and sisters had," she said.

Smith said young people have not been following the 2012 race as closely as they did in 2008. But they're now starting to pay attention and are lining up to register.

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