Voters under 30 may turn out in much smaller numbers than in 2008, according to an analysis by a well-respected electoral expert, a major potential threat to President Obama’s prospects for winning next fall.
In a report on Wednesday, Curtis Gans, director of the Washington-based Center for the American Electorate, predicted voter turnout overall (as a percentage of the eligible voting population) would be lower than in 2008 or 2004. He argued those two elections fired up voters, particularly Democrats, in a way neither party will in 2012.
But he highlighted a “substantial drop-off in the level of youth participation” in 2012 as a likely outcome of the last three years.
“Because Obama the president did not fulfill the hope invested in Obama the candidate, there has been an enormous sense of disappointment among those young who had been previously politically active and the current crop of college-resident young do not have the same compelling motivation to engage as those who preceded them,” Gans wrote.
Gans predicted that Latinos, who backed Obama overwhelmingly in 2008, would also show up in smaller numbers, in part because of increased deportations of illegal immigrants in Obama’s tenure. Gans said the only part of the Democratic base likely to retain its energy around the president are African-Americans.
At the same time, Gans’ analysis included some good news for Democrats. He argued the influence of the Tea Party has pushed Republicans to the political right, “positions that are likely to undermine the eventual nominee’s support among independent voters.”
“The election is likely to offer a minimum of hope and a maximum of televised invective – likely between the perception of a failed president and a party of failed ideas magnified by an unprecedented level of scurrilous and vitriolic and often ad hominem television advertising,” he wrote. “Against this backdrop, it is hard to envision anything other than a substantial decline in turnout.”
Gans said voter turnout overall, particularly among Democrats, could increase if the economy improves over the next year. And Obama campaign officials launched the president’s reelection campaign very early this year in part to try to energize parts of his base that have been frustrated by his tenure.
The youth vote ould not be more important. In 2008, Obama cruised to victory in part because 18 percent of the electorate was under age 30, and 66 percent of those voters backed him. In 2010, with the economy struggling and Obama not on the ballot, young voters still favored Congressional Democrats.
But voters under 30 comprised only 11 percent of the electorate, while older voters turned out at much higher percentages and largely backed the GOP.