Young Voters Feel Abandoned By Obama

The younger voters that flocked to Barack Obama two years ago feel let down. They need to grow up.

In 2008, Barack Obama’s candidacy was widely touted for inspiring younger voters to get involved in politics and, more importantly, to show up at the polls on Election Day. Twenty-one months later, though, that same voting group is saying that they feel abandoned by the President, and they appear unlikely to make it to the polls in large numbers this time around:

MIAMI — Two years ago, the University of Miami could not get enough Barack Obama. The campaign rally he held here felt like a rock concert, his face appeared on T-shirts all over campus, and pro-Obama volunteers registered 2,000 new voters.

Meetings of the College Democrats that attracted 200 people in 2008 now pull in a dozen. New voter registration is way down, too, and free posters of President Obama — once “the Michael Jordan” of politics, as one freshman put it — are now refused by students.

“It’s not the fad anymore,” said Jessica Kirsner, 21, a junior from Houston and vice president of the College Democrats. “It’s not the fad to be politically knowledgeable and active.”

Is this really what Obama-mania was to the under-30 set, a fad comparable to owning an iPod or watching Family Guy ? If that’s the case, it’s no wonder that the bloom has come off the rose so quickly:

This was not what Generation O expected Mr. Obama won two years ago with 66 percent of the 18- to 29-year-old vote, a historic proportion. Americans under 30 also worked on campaigns at a greater rate than the general population did for the first time since 1952, or possibly even earlier, according to the National Election Studies.

Now, however, former Obama volunteers nationwide say that they and their former colleagues are less involved and more ambivalent. Experts say the usual midterm effect, in which young voters are especially likely to disengage, has combined with an unexpected distance that has arisen between Mr. Obama and many young constituents. While most of them still view him more favorably than their parents or grandparents do, various polls show that the youthful passion that led to action has not been sustained.

“They were emotionally invested,” said Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University. “Somehow that should have been turned into, for Democrats, a revival of progressive policy, and in a neutral way, a revival of democracy starting with young people.”

“So far, it hasn’t happened,” he added.

Many young Obama supporters and volunteers said they had hoped to play a bigger role with the Obama agenda. The campaign had given them structures, for taking off a semester to train and then work in a campaign office, for example. In nondescript towns all over the country, they were the public face of the campaign, as they helped turn undecided voters into sure things.

They also played a prominent role in independent movements that sprouted online, like the Great Schlep, which pushed young people to talk about Obama with senior citizens. And Facebook helped pull the threads together.

And, now, the college crowd seems to be complaining because the Administration didn’t do enough to keep the sense of community that had developed during the campaign alive, and apparently because the President didn’t appear on the right television shows:

Others, though, said the administration or Organizing for America, the group that grew from the Obama campaign, could have done more. Why didn’t Mr. Obama, who appeared on “The Daily Show” this week for the first time since taking office, go there more often, they asked?


Mik Moore, 36, a creator of the Great Schlep, said that he too had found less energy and less creative communication among Obama supporters who were active two years ago. He described a recent meeting in Los Angeles with about a dozen young professionals who were trying to come up with messages or approaches that resonated and got people talking about progressive policies or the administration.

Only one emerged: when Stephen Colbert made a mock appearance before Congress to talk about immigration.

Is this what it takes to get young voters interested, appearances on fake news shows? Apparently, the answer is yes, and that says more about Generation O than it does about the Obama Administration. It looks for all the world like we’re dealing with a generation of voters who need to be coddled to and entertained in order to start paying attention to the world around them. Then, even when they win, they seem to think that unless they’re pandered to at every turn, then they can just take their marbles and go back to the coffee shop.

The reality of politics, of course, is that you have to get involved in order for your voice to be heard. Instead of just fading away after the election, and after the realities of day-to-day politics revealed themselves, Generation O should have stayed involved like everyone else did. The fact that they didn’t simply reinforces the conclusion that political professionals reached about younger voters not long after the 26th Amendment was ratified. Namely, that you simply cannot trust them to show up at the polls on a regular, consistent basis.

Of course, the other problem with the younger voters that rallied behind Obama is that they simply had unrealistic expectations of what he could do, even with majorities in both Houses of Congress and notwithstanding the fact that there was a severe economic downturn that pretty much put the rest of the campaign agenda on the back burner. The idea that Barack Obama was going to “remake Washington,” which was one of the common themes that seemed to motivate younger voters two years ago, was simply naive in the extreme, and anyone who’s been following politics long enough knew from the start that it was a promise he could never keep.

So Generation O will largely stay home tomorrow, apparently. That’s their choice, and I’m hardly one who believes that voting is a “civic duty.” However, when they wake up on November 3rd and realize that “their side” has lost, perhaps they’ll realize that politics isn’t a schoolyard game for children.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, Democracy, US Politics, , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Drew says:

    Doug –

    Of course they need to grow up, but so do all those bought into the empty promises.

    This guy was bologney all the way.

  2. jwest says:

    “Young Voters Feel Abandoned By Obama”

    Well, after tomorrow Obama will realize he’s been abandoned by young voters – so they’re even.

  3. Vast Variety says:

    “However, when they wake up on November 3rd and realize that “their side” has lost, perhaps they’ll realize that politics isn’t a schoolyard game for children.”

    The Summer of rage, the shouts at the State of the Union, and the back room dealings of both parties in congress has made it painfully apparent that the leadership of both parties has indeed decided that it is nothing more than a schoolyard game of king of the hill where who controls the switch is far more important that the effects of pulling the switch.

  4. Ben says:

    This is one of the most ridiculously condescending and patronizing piles of nonsense I’ve ever read. Give me a break. The older generations really do view us as a bunch of whining babies with dirty diapers and 5 second attention spans, don’t you? Well, you’ll find out when you’re 80 and soiling your pants and depending on us to support you all.

    The fact that he’s only been on the Daily Show once is not why young people feel abandoned by Obama. They feel abandoned because HE has abandoned 90% of what he campaigned on. And if you want specifics, we can start in the area of civil liberties (which none of the older generations appear to give a flying hoot about). Obama has been worse than Bush on that score, and I don’t even think the biggest cynic on earth could have seen that one coming.

  5. Drew says:

    Politics has been reduced to a schoolyard game for children by including children fresh off the schoolyard. The notion that an 18-year-old on the slow-track for a credential in some bullshit featherbed suffixed generously by the optimistic euphemism “Studies” is either informed enough to weigh in on the substantive issues facing even the most local body politic or vested enough in the outcome of elections to treat them with commensurate respect is profoundly dubious. It’s good that the brats stay home when adult business is to be attended, and they should be encouraged to do so. The country would do well to subsidize popular video game franchise releases on Election Day, in order to keep the most passionately ignorant and irresponsible demographic thereby occupied.

    Expansion of the voter rolls has done nothing but induce carcinogens into the political culture, as the various tumors and cancers eating away at what’s left of the Republic attest. I’m glad these halfwits feel abandoned and thereby disinterested; harder for the left to make a dependent constituency out of them, then.

  6. just me says:

    Mayber Generation O wants more entertainment and feel good speech, but I also think that voters in general are no longer being satisfied with flower speeches, but more of the same old, same old. I think the days of the loyal party line voter are close to being over and for politicians they will be expected to follow through on their promises or they may find themselves looking for a job other than politician.

  7. Ben says:

    Drew – the average college student is a HELL of a lot more informed about the major substantive issues of the day than Billy Bob Proud-to-be-a-hick (I mean Real American).

  8. Drew says:

    Ben, with all due respect, no they aren’t. I’m certain that the two years intervening between now and the completion of my Master’s hasn’t appreciably cultured a responsible, intelligent youth voter. If anything, I imagine they’ve only gotten dumber, because that would be following the trend line.

    This was not meant to be interpreted as a panegyric to the glorious wisdom of the unwashed masses of proletarian simpletons who didn’t have even the meagre capacity neccessary to acquire a college degree, and such an investigation is a digression at best. The imbecility, naivete and downright peurility of freshly minted adults in this country is not excused by the comparable imbecility of the statistical middle.

  9. Trueofvoice says:

    President Obama has taken a pass on virtually every issue he campaigned on. His civil liberties record is appalling, he snowed us on the government option for health care and made us captive customers of the insurance industry, he has defended the privileges of Wall Street against the interests of Main Street. He not only failed to close Guantanamo, he expanded it at Bagram AFB. He put no effort into delivering a viable climate bill. He has made little effort to end DADT.

    Did I mention his civil liberties record is appalling?

    This is about what we would have gotten from a President McCain.

  10. An Interested Party says:

    Oh please…as if age alone is the only determinant of how informed or vested in the outcome of elections someone is…as if older people can’t be just as ignorant and/or foolish…as if the consequences of elections don’t have just as much bearing on the young…the idea that younger voters as a whole are too deficient to play a role in the political process simply because of their age is what is truly profoundly dubious…the practioners of politics as a schoolyard game for children include far more people from the Silent and Baby Boomer Generations than from the Millennials…

  11. Pete says:

    Ben, your generation may be smart, but it is not wise. Wisdom comes from experience; not text books and Marxist professors.

  12. Ben says:

    Pete, if wisdom is what the older generations have used to get us where we are now, then I’ll take a pass on it. Oh and by the way, anytime anyone invokes the “marxist” gambit, know that there are now eyes rolling.

  13. Pete says:

    Best of luck son. Your generation gave us Obama who is as clueless as you are. I’ll take wisdom over naive hubris anyday.

  14. Ben says:

    And your generation gave us Bush, so I guess we’re even.

  15. Ben says:

    And don’t call me son.

  16. anjin-san says:

    > the empty promises.

    Yep. Pass a health care bill, wind down the war in Iraq – all talk.

  17. anjin-san says:

    > Politics has been reduced to a schoolyard game

    This coming from someone who’s go-to argument is to call those who disagree with him “pathetic”?

  18. mpw280 says:

    Abandoned, that is an understatement. Sold into bondage, raped, indentured or roughly used is more like it. They may not have a complete idea about how screwed they now are but they will soon, when they get out and have to start paying the bills with lower job prospects and higher taxes. Then when the rest of the national bills come due, they won’t have the ability to scrape together enough to buy anything nice for themselves, then they will wonder what the hell they were thinking, but it will be too late. mpw

  19. mpw280 says:


    the average college student is a HELL of a lot more informed about the major substantive issues of the day than Billy Bob Proud-to-be-a-hick (I mean Real American).

    That is utter bullshit. You have not a clue what a real American is. You sit in school or your parents basement and talk about how important you are. The hick you despise is out working to raise a family, pay his bills, and pay his taxes. He probably also lives in flyover country which means most school brats look down on him as well as most coasties as well. You will probably wish you have it as good as the guy you despise when your job prospects are shitty and your bills are piling up. He may not have a degree but that hick probably fixes your parents plumbing, heating, car, pool, or what ever, while you are still a net drain on the system.

    How does that feel for dismissal? Don’t like it? Then don’t do it, you are a fine frog hair from being below what you despise. mpw

  20. anjin-san says:

    > He probably also lives in flyover country which means most school brats look down on him as well as most coasties as well

    Whining is not an appealing activity for a grown up. It is certainly not a core American value.

    > You will probably wish you have it as good as the guy you despise when your job prospects are shitty and your bills are piling up.

    Wishing ill luck on another is the sign of a true loser.

  21. anjin-san says:

    > Marxist professors.

    News flash – parroting Fox News talking heads is not wisdom.

  22. Ben says:

    mpw – First of all, I’m out of school, have a job, pay my bills, am supporting a family and am not a net drain on the economy, so you don’t know what you’re talking about. As for dismissal or looking down on someone, I’m not the one that claimed to be a “Real american”, as the tea partiers did. That is the act of dismissal of a huge sector of the country.

    But if you want to know that I DO have dismissal for, it is this: The rampant anti-intellectualism and demonizing of anyone with either higher education or what they consider a white collar job coming from the right/tea party/midwest/southern US disgusts me. I consider that to be a grave threat to the future of our country.

  23. says:

    A pretty good link for tracking campaign promises by Obama: The Obameter: Tracking Obama’s Campaign Promises

    (I hope that link posts right, I haven’t had much luck with that since the last remodel.)

    Anyone that is bitter about Obama not following through on campaign promises is either listening too some weird “truthiness” gestalt (which is exactly like the tea party by the way) or has unrealistic expectations for what one person can do in our government.

  24. Generation Yer says:

    How is this news? College aged kids have never been very plugged into the political process, 2008 was record turnout… an aberration. Whoever thought that it would translate into lasting engagement was kidding themselves.

    Don’t kid yourselves, the majority of us were ambivalent at that age.