Commentary Magazine


Could Youth Unemployment Complicate Obama’s Reelection Bid?

The bleak jobs report for June was discouraging for everyone, but the one demographic hit hardest by the unemployment crisis is the same group that turned out overwhelmingly to support Obama in the 2008 election — young Americans. Nearly one-in-five 16-to-24-year-olds who are looking for work can’t find a job, reports the National Journal’s Jim Tankersley–nearly a 30-year high for youth unemployment.

In 2008, analysts argued that the record youth voter turnout may have given Obama the edge in some closely-contested states. The question now is whether young voters will once again turn out in such large numbers for Obama in 2012. While 53 percent of Americans under the age of 30 still approve of the president’s job performance according to the latest Gallup poll in June, that’s a steep drop from the 74 percent that approved of him in the spring of 2009.

The dipping numbers may be due to growing disillusion with the president. Despite being one of the groups most impacted by unemployment, in 2008, young people pinned the most hope to Obama’s ability to deal with the economic crisis:

Obama and Republicans alike should pay particular attention to youth optimism about the direction of the economy. In 2008, exit polls showed that 54 percent of young voters believed that the economy would improve over the next year, compared with 47 percent of the rest of the electorate. Obama probably needs millennials to be similarly upbeat in 2012. In other words, it’s all about confidence—like so much else in the economy these days.

The fact that these hopes have been dashed may not translate to automatic support for Republicans, but there’s a good chance it will have an impact on whether or not young people show up at the polls.