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Youth vote the bullseye of Obama’s radar

Cody Cousino / Photo editor

Student loan reform and access to college were two speaking points at President Barack Obama’s second visit to Ohio State in as many months.

OSU communication professor Erik Nisbet said the topics themselves are important, but the points have more relevance because of who they target,

Obama kicked off his re-election campaign at the Schottenstein Center Saturday to a crowd of about 14,000 people at his “Ready To Go” Rally.

At the rally, Obama lobbied for youth votes.

The votes of people under 30 tilted the election in Obama’s favor in 2008, and he said he hopes to use his favor with young voters in 2012. But the continuing economic malaise might erode the lead he originally had and make the fight for youth voters more difficult.

“I think he’s going to have more challenges in 2012,” Nisbet said. “He’s no longer a new face.”

Obama won the youth vote by a wide margin in 2008, with 66 percent of voters under 30 choosing him against John McCain, according to a 2008 analysis by Pew Research Center. Nisbet suggested that this was because Obama presented himself as a fresh brand to a group of young people who had already become profoundly disillusioned with the past eight years of politics.

“He was younger, and his methods resonated after eight years of a Republican administration,” Nisbet said. “He was effective at using social media and the Internet, which reached out to young people.”

However in this campaign, Obama has lost his brand effectiveness, Nisbet said. Additionally, youth voters, some of whom are graduating and facing the true difficulties of the still-lingering recession, might be less likely to vote for him.

“I think youth voters are frustrated by the economy in terms of job prospects, so their mood is less conducive to turnout and participation in terms of economic worry,” Nisbet said. “And I think the Republicans have gotten savvy in terms of technology and in terms of politics.”

Ryan Williams, a spokesperson for former Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, said the president failed to talk about his poor economic record at the rally Saturday.

“His solution to every problem in Washington (D.C.) is simply to raise taxes and not cut government and make the hard decisions that are required to maintain the long-term state of this country,” Williams said.

Drew Stroemple, a second-year in economics and political science and president of OSU College Republicans, said youth voters are largely disillusioned with Obama. Their voting behavior, he said, will be affected by their inability to get jobs out of college.

“In the end, students know that what matters is getting a job,” Stroemple said. “We can say that your best chance of having a job when you graduate is electing Mitt Romney.”

Mallory Kimble, a second-year in business administration and president of the OSU College Democrats, disagreed and said the economic difficulties will make youth voters look to Obama even more, as his policies resonate with their concerns.

“I do think the youth vote is going to be similar to what it was in 2008, because we’ve been dealing with student loans and increasing funding for grants, and these are issues directly affecting young Americans,” Kimble said. “Honestly, I don’t think the Romney campaign will fare well with youth voters.”

Nisbet said that though Obama’s pull with youth voters won’t be nearly as strong as it was in 2008, it will still be able to edge out the Romney campaign in numbers. The question, he asked, is by how much.

“I am sure that Obama is going to get a majority of youth voters,” Nisbet said. “I don’t think we can expect him to get higher rates. What the Obama campaign hopes for is maybe the same rate, especially in battleground states.”

Ujesh Vora, a first-year in biomedical engineering, said policies that pertain to education are important to him and he feels Obama is better suited to address those issues.

“Making sure that college is affordable, because I’m considering med school, is definitely important to me, as is health care, because I’m going into a very health-care defined field,” Vora said. “At least as far as the stuff Obama has done in the past four years, it seems he’s making improvements in jobs and health care. And I think he understands the youth a little more than Mitt Romney does.”

Jake Young, a third-year in political science, said he thinks it will ultimately come down to who can help the economy more and who can convince students that they are better suited to help create jobs.

“A lot of it has to do with college loans and how to get a job,” Young said. “It comes down to the finer details of who’s going to help the economy.”

Ultimately, the campaign still has six months to go, Nisbet said.

What will really affect young voters will be how the economy and other external factors develop before the November election.

“There are a lot of unknowns between now and November,” Nisbet said. “What’s most interesting is what the unknowns are, not what the knowns are.”

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