Millennials Go Sour on Obama

Young voters have turned against the president and Congress.

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President Barack Obama pauses as he makes a statement on the Affordable Care Act Dec. 3, 2013, in the South Court Auditorium at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C.
President Barack Obama kicked off a three-week long campaign to promote the benefits of the Affordable Care Act law Tuesday with a speech at the White House.

The youth vote, often considered unreliable or an aberration from the electorate at large, has matured. And the reason we know that is that young voters' views of President Obama and Congress are now much more in line with the perspectives of the rest of America.

Harvard's Institute of Politics has been meticulously surveying the youth vote (18-29 year olds) since 2000, and the results of the most recent survey this week are deeply disappointing for Washington elected officials. Just 41 percent of the so-called millennials approve of Obama's job performance – pretty much in line with the rest of America, and startling, considering it was young voters who provided Obama with a critical win in the 2008 Iowa caucuses and support in the general election. Further, just 35 percent approve of the way congressional Democrats are performing, while only 19 percent give a thumbs-up to congressional Republicans.

How mad are young voters? A stunning 47 percent say they would recall Obama, if possible, and 52 percent say they would recall every single member of Congress. That question is more of an emotional gauge than a practical issue, but it shows something very important: that stereotypically idealistic youth are just as disgusted with the performance of American government as everyone else.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

"People are disappointed because they are passionate," says John Della Volpe, who did the poll. It does not mean, Della Volpe says, that they dislike government in general. It's the fact that they do believe government can and should be a force for good that they are especially upset over the way their government is performing.

Adds Institute Director Trey Grayson: "Millennials are now looking more like their parents and grandparents – very much aligned with the rest of America." That is, he says, "not helpful to Obama in the next couple of months or for Democrats looking ahead to the 2014 midterms."

It may be, however, good for this voter group itself. For decades, young voters have been dismissed as a group of disproportionately liberal, overly-idealistic kids who rarely end up showing up to vote. The 2008 (and to some degree, the 2012) elections disproved the young-people-don't-vote idea. The fact that this voter group is not so myopically devoted to the man they helped elect shows that they must be taken seriously as an up-for-grabs vote. And that means elected officials must start paying attention to the worries young voters have, ranging from college costs to the national debt. The polling numbers aren't good for Obama right now. But they may force other candidates to take this voter group more seriously.

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