After that banner turnout, Allison Byers, a 25-year-old in San Francisco, finds young Americans' waning commitment to vote in this election frustrating.
"It kind of breaks my heart," says Byers, who works in communications at an arts college and was an active organizer for the Obama campaign in 2008, when she was a junior at Virginia Tech.
Even she concedes that she's feeling more "realistic" than excited about this election — her optimism tempered by the difficulties the nation and the president have faced in the last four years. But she remains committed to him.
"There are always reasons to be disenchanted and unenthusiastic," she says. "But you have to keep fighting the good fight."
It's important to note, though, that for a whole new crop of eligible voters — those who weren't yet 18 in November 2008 — this will be the first time they're able to cast a ballot.
And that has Della Volpe at Harvard wondering if the enthusiasm gap may be, at least partly, the result of a "growing schism" between older and younger millennials, the age group so named because they've reached adulthood in the new millennium.
Older millennials came of age amid the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and Hurricane Katrina, sparking some to become more civically and politically engaged. Meanwhile, "the political awakening of the younger millennials is happening during the recession," Della Volpe says.
How that will affect them, or influence this election, remains to be seen.
But already, Della Volpe and his staff have found that Obama holds a wider margin of support among older twentysomethings than with potential voters who are 18 to 24 — especially 18- and 19-year-olds.
Whether Republicans know that, or whether they simply noted young voters' influence on the last election, they have been spending more time courting college students lately.
Republican Paul Ryan, being framed as the "younger" vice presidential candidate, has spent time on campuses recently. George P. Bush, son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, also has been making the rounds at colleges and universities in his state, to try to generate interest in Republicans.
That is "a very, very astute move" by Republicans, Della Volpe says.
They won't win the youth vote, he predicts. "But they might win the white 18- to 24-year-old vote — and they could block some additional gains that Obama might make."
It means a lot depends on these next few weeks, especially since studies have shown that young voters are often late to engage in an election, even in a presidential year.
"Young voters tend to make up their minds about whether they will vote — and for whom — much later than older voters," says Brian Harward, a political scientist who heads the Center for Political Participation at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania.
So voter registration drives are continuing in earnest, as are education campaigns to try to allay the confusion over which IDs students can use when voting. In states such as Pennsylvania, where a voter ID law remains in limbo, colleges and universities are issuing expiration stickers for student IDs, so they can be used at the polls.
In the absence of as many student-driven campaign activities, schools such as Elmhurst College also have created a calendar of fall political events — debate viewing parties and forums for congressional candidates, among them.
"I am still taken aback that students haven't really thought about the election that much," says Ian Crone, Elmhurst's associate dean of students.
He only hopes that, before Nov. 6, more of them will do so.
Harvard Institute of Politics: http://www.iop.harvard.edu/
Martha Irvine is a national writer for The Associated Press. She can be reached at mirvine(at)ap.org or at http://twitter.com/irvineap
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