Millennial voters’ confidence in Obama continues to slip from historical highs, according to a recent Harvard survey.
Dropping seven points within the last year alone, the survey shows a troubling trend for the Obama White House and Democratic candidates during the mid-term elections this fall. Millennials, 18–29 year-olds, have seemingly soured on the president because of unfulfilled promises and high expectations.
In 2008, college campuses around the nation were full of excited young voters anticipating the election of Barack Obama. They saw hope in the then senator, who promised change from the political norm in Washington of special interests and politicians acting without accountability. Now almost six years later, the momentum has slowed as millennials grow disenchanted with both the president and the constant gridlock in Washington.
Richard Davis, a BYU political science professor, said Obama “embodied youth as well as novelty — the first major party nominee who is African American.”
Aaron McMurray, a recent BYU graduate in music, was a Utah Valley Organizing Fellow during Obama’s 2012 campaign. “Obama represented a challenge to the political status quo that I strongly dislike,” he said.
While McMurray remains proud of his involvement in the campaign, he admits Obama did not live up to expectations. “I’ve been very disillusioned by his allowances of military agenda and tactics — many of which are inhumane and categorically criminal under international law and make me ashamed of my country,” he said.
McMurray is not alone in his frustrations. When asked, “How often do you trust the president to do the right thing,” the 2014 Harvard poll found that just 32 percent of young voters said “all the time,” as opposed to 51 percent in 2010. Political analysts and strategists from both parties continue to search for answers about this disillusionment.
Nearly 24 million millennials turned out to vote in 2008, the highest levels seen in more than 30 years, according to a Pew research poll. Obama’s team utilized social and new media in innovative ways to capture the attention of the rising generation.
A monumental political opportunity was initiated by Obama’s bid for the White House, but now some worry that opportunity was never fully seized.
“Obama had a moment, we all had a moment, between 2007 and the 2010 mid-term elections, to engage the largest generation in U.S. history, and we didn’t do it,” said Harvard pollster John Della Volpe in an interview with the National Journal.
The exact cause for the disillusionment among young voters is up for debate. Davis suggests that this mirrors the overall disillusionment felt by all voters, partially due to Obama’s shifted focus from campaigning to other issues. According to Davis, the healthcare.gov glitches during the October 2013 rollout have also been serious factors in Obama’s declining approval rating.
“Perhaps young voters were more disillusioned because their expectations were higher to begin with. But remember, President Obama doesn’t have to run for re-election. He is not campaigning as he was in 2010. He is not trying to court voters, as he was then,” Davis said.
McMurray, who volunteered making phone calls and even traveled to Colorado to secure votes in 2012, takes issue with the president’s use of power both domestically and abroad. “Specifically, I am angry and disillusioned about the dozens of illicit U.S. drone strikes, the abuses of the NSA, lack of transparency and insufficient support and benefits for veterans.”
Still, with all of the controversy surrounding Obama’s policies, many millennials remain strong supporters and committed to the ideals he ran on in 2008.
Morgan Jarvis, a senior studying public health, said, “A lot of things (Obama) is passionate about are important to me,” Jarvis said. She admits that her opinion of him has changed a bit but believes he is the best man for the job. She said, “I would vote for him again, but I would think harder about it.”
McMurray does not solely blame Obama for the issues in Washington. He said, “I am convinced that Obama was and is genuine in what he hoped to accomplish for America.” McMurray also blames a dysfunctional Congress as well as a well-funded lobby force; he stated there are “too many factors for even a commander in chief to overhaul.”