- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 30, 2012

President Obama maintains a 17-point advantage over Mitt Romney among voters under age 30, according to a new national poll released Tuesday. And as with older voters, the economy is the primary issue of concern for “millennials.”

“Young people don’t have a separate set of special-interest points that have to be ticked off,” said Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE), which conducted the survey for the Youth Education Fund. “It has more to do with whether you reach them or not.”

Mr. Obama racked up huge margins with the youngest voters in his history-making run in 2008, but there have been persistent questions whether he can duplicate the enthusiasm and turnout among new voters this time around.

CIRCLE polled the same group of 1,109 Americans aged 18-29 in June and July and again between Oct. 12 and Oct. 23. Mr. Obama is ahead 52 percent to 35 percent among likely voters in this age bracket, with 8.8 percent undecided and the rest planning to vote for someone else. The margin of error was calculated at +/- 4.2 percentage points.

These results were on track with a poll released last week from the Institute of Politics at Harvard University, which showed Mr. Obama with a 19 percentage point lead among young people.

But the CIRCLE survey suggested America’s youngest voters are continuing to engage late in the race. Those stating they are “extremely” likely to vote is up 9.9 percent from July, and may have even risen since Harvard’s findings just a few weeks earlier.

Only 48 percent of young people told Harvard pollsters they would definitely vote this time around — a steep downward trend from the historic 66 percent youth voter turnout in 2008.

But 54.6 percent of millennials surveyed by CIRCLE said they were “extremely likely” to vote in November.

“Their interest and engagement has risen rapidly in the past months,” Mr. Levine said.

This could be symptomatic of campaign strategies rather than voter apathy. By October, only 15.1 percent said they had been contacted by either candidate’s party — up just 3 points from July. Most of those contacted heard from Mr. Obama’s campaign.

Meanwhile, support for Mr. Romney is slightly down — from 36.9 percent to 35.1 percent. Some 59.7 percent of younger voters say they are disappointed or angry with the candidate, and only 9.4 percent said they admired him.

“Both campaigns, to their credit, have done a great job of reaching out to young people,” said Alexandra Acker-Lyons, director of the Youth Engagement Fund. “But from both sides, we’re not seeing the same level of investment in young voters versus other electorates like women.”

The 18- to 29-year-old age group is a quarter of the total voting constituency this year, and by 2020 will make up a third. Failure to connect with this generation could spell trouble for both parties.

Defying the stereotypical youth response of apathy and disinterest, millennials have a strong sense of community involvement. 72.6 percent said young people have the power to change things — marking a shift from “Gen X” cynicism toward government institutions, Ms. Acker-Lyons said.

“Politicians will really ignore this group at their own peril,” she said. “They have the numbers and the will and the engagement to really wreak havoc on the current political system and shake things up.”