President Obama is campaigning in favor of extending a student loan interest bill in North Carolina today in an effort to woo young voters, a critical demographic for him in the state. But as Politico reports, his professed enthusiasm for this student loan bill is a relatively new development, since he missed two votes on the same bill while campaigning back in 2007:
In 2007, then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama missed two votes on the student loan interest bill that he now wants Congress to extend.
The bill, introduced by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and signed into law by President George W. Bush, first cleared the Senate in July on a 78 to 18 vote, with Obama as one of only four senators to abstain. Obama did not cast a vote again in September, after the House and Senate had ironed out different versions of the bill. He was on the conference committee assigned to merge the House and Senate versions of the bill.
To be fair, Obama’s votes weren’t needed to pass the legislation at the time (in July of ’07, the bill passed the Senate by a 78 to 18 margin, according to Politico). The proposed extension currently has bipartisan support, and Mitt Romney has already come out in favor of it. So while Obama’s support for it is most likely genuine, this isn’t exactly a position that distinguishes him from the GOP.
It also isn’t a position that’s going to suddenly drive skeptical young voters to support him. Student loans are a major concern for young people, but their top policy priority is still job creation. In a Georgetown University poll released last week, 74 percent of 18 to 24-year-old cited jobs and unemployment as the most critical issue facing the country. The federal deficit and education were tied in a distant second place.
So while Obama’s focus on student loans won’t hurt, and might even help him with some young voters, the real issue he’s going to need to address to them is jobs. And fuzzy rhetoric is not going to be enough. His support is tanking with young voters because of his record on unemployment – half of recent college graduates are currently jobless or underemployed according to the latest study.
The lack of enthusiasm isn’t just noticeable in Obama’s sinking approval ratings. Many young Democratic voters have also fallen off the voting rolls, according to Politico:
But for once, demographics aren’t on Obama’s side. The number of young Democrats registered to vote in the state has shrunk by nearly three times Obama’s victory margin; 40,000 of them have fallen off state voter rolls in the state since 2008, a Tufts University study in December found.
Obama isn’t going to get these voters back simply by backing the extension of a student loan bill that already has bipartisan support. He’s going to need to figure out how to generate enthusiasm similar to 2008, and at this point in his presidency that seems like an impossible target.