Commentary Magazine


Will Obama’s 2008 Popularity Work against Him?

Although polls show President Obama falling out of favor with the general public, he still has a 55 percent approval rating among 18-29 year olds. Clearly a lot of young people like him. But will that be enough to win their campaign support?

Obviously there will be plenty of young Democratic and liberal activists who will hit the campaign trail for him. But back in 2007 and 2008, Obama wasn’t just promoted by partisans, but also by the popular culture. That, along with his last campaign’s highly distinctive branding, could end up working against him.

Students didn’t just wear Obama tees during the last election because they liked his politics. They wore them because the shirts were wildly popular. Obama picked up countless celebrity endorsements, music videos and tabloid magazine covers–all free publicity, and most of it unhesitatingly positive.

The problem with the Obama-craze of 2008 is that trends go out of style. Looking back, Obama’s extreme popularity now comes off as dated, even a bit corny. He’ll probably still win the youth vote. But it seems far less likely that ordinary, non-political college students will walk around looking like a free billboard for the Obama reelection bid. It will be up to his campaign to make up for the loss of cheap publicity.