Obama may not get big ‘millennial’ backing again

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The country’s very youngest voters are tuning out this time.

A new poll released Wednesday by the Institute of Politics (IOP) at Harvard University found that just 48 percent of voters ages 18 to 24 say they will definitely vote in November — down from 66 percent four years ago when President Obama first swept into office.

That could spell political peril for Mr. Obama, who strongly outpolls GOP rival Mitt Romney among young voters, the survey found. Mr. Romney currently trails Mr. Obama for the youth vote by a wide margin — 36 percent to 55 percent — putting the president up 2 points from a similar poll taken in April.

“If I’m on the president’s campaign, I would be concerned. Young voters are one of his key coalition demographics,” said John Della Volpe, the institute’s polling director. “But a part of this is not just about the candidates, it’s a lack of interest in the election process and whether those votes matter.”

“There’s a clear sentiment that young people believe Washington is broken,” added IOP Director Trey Grayson, blaming partisan fighting and lack of civility in government for helping to dampen political enthusiasm of “millennials.” The number of those 18 to 24 planning to vote has dropped 16 percentage points from 2008, and only 22 percent consider themselves politically active — down from 43 percent four years ago. Translated into raw numbers, that could mean 4 million to 5 million fewer voters under 30 will turn in ballots in November than they did last time around.

Despite the lopsided support for Mr. Obama among millennials, Mr. Romney’s young backers are more enthusiastic about their choice.

“While Obama fares better in the horse race, Romney’s vote is more committed to actually turning out in November,” said Mr. Della Volpe, polling director at IOP. Sixty-five percent of Mr. Romney’s supporters say they will “definitely” vote in the fall, compared with 55 percent for Mr. Obama.

Mr. Della Volpe said the survey suggests that two groups of young people won’t vote this year. There are those who are not political but voted in 2008 because they wanted to take part in the historic election of the first black president. And there are those — typified by 43 percent of nonvoters surveyed — who care about the country but believe that no matter who wins the election, Washington will not be fixed.

Some 59 percent of young black voters say they will definitely vote, compared with 54 percent of whites. Of potential concern to Mr. Obama’s campaign: Only 31 percent of young Hispanics say they definitely plan to vote.

The survey found that the younger the voter, the more likely he or she is to be conservative. Mr. Obama had only a 12-point lead among those 18 to 24 years old, but support jumped to 23 points among those 25 to 29 years old.

In a conference call discussing the results of the poll, Mr. Grayson and Mr. Della Volpe said the president’s success with young people has been largely the result of his shared world view and ability to connect with millennials, the largest generation in American history. Mr. Romney, they said, may have missed an opportunity to cut into the president’s support when the economy was still struggling mightily a year ago — an issue more than 3 in 5 young people continue to consider the biggest facing the nation.

“It’s difficult to typecast this generation,” said Mr. Della Volpe. “There are strains of liberal, progressive policies, but I would consider them to be fiercely independent. They were the first to support and approve [President George W.] Bush after 9/11. A year ago, Obama was at 50 percent. Republicans had an opportunity to seize that moment of doubt.”

The Harvard Institute of Politics conducted 2,123 interviews from Sept. 19 to Oct. 3 among American citizens ages 18 to 29. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.

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