Joel Meyerson seems to fit the definition of “disillusioned young voter” and possible vote-switcher from Democrat Barack Obama, whom he voted for as a UW-Madison student in 2008, to Republican Mitt Romney in this fall’s election.
Until recently, the 23-year-old lived in his parents’ house in suburban Chicago since his 2011 graduation, part of a generation more likely to move back under Mom and Dad’s roof than any since the 1950s. He works part time at an Apple store while trying to get a freelance media business up and running, mirroring a trend toward higher-than-average unemployment or underemployment for recent college graduates.
But he’s not disillusioned and he plans to vote the same in his second presidential election this November.
“I don’t blame Obama for my lack of an ideal job situation,” he said, “and I don’t think it’s accurate to portray us all as disillusioned because things aren’t perfect.”
Republicans nationally and in Wisconsin are banking on others of his generation being less forgiving of a president they voted for in overwhelming numbers the last time. They think they can significantly carve into Obama’s mammoth 2008 advantage among voters ages 18 to 29.
Moving just a few thousand voters in key states such as Wisconsin could make a difference in the tight election.
“I think young voters are very hungry for new ideas and solutions to address long-term problems,” said Jeff Snow, chairman of the College Republicans at UW-Madison. “Our main objective is asking students if their future is brighter than it was $5 trillion ago?”
He’s referring the ballooning federal deficit, which along with bleak employment prospects for young people are the issues Republicans plan to stress in their outreach to young voters.
College Republicans will be trumpeting those messages on campuses across the state starting this week, he said, joining a coordinated effort in Wisconsin that started with a prime-time appeal to young voters by Janesville Republican and vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan at last month’s Republican National Convention. Last week, as Democrats held their convention in Charlotte, N.C., Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus worked a phone bank with young voters in Green Bay.
Nowhere but up for GOP
Just six states had a higher youth voter turnout than Wisconsin in 2008, when about 59 percent of voters between ages 18 and 29 went to the polls. In Wisconsin, Obama won a decisive victory over GOP nominee John McCain, and young people voted for Obama by a 64-35 percent margin, exit polls showed.
Recent Marquette University Law School polling shows the Obama-Biden ticket with a comfortable margin among the age group over Romney-Ryan, 57-37 percent.
The Obama campaign doesn’t appear to be sweating Republican efforts, citing the president’s margin in polls, which they think will increase the more voters get to know Romney and Ryan’s positions on important issues including Pell grants for college and recent changes in federal health care laws.
“Once people see their budget proposals and what they want to repeal, they’re going to realize this is a team that simply doesn’t have their back,” said Jason Rae, a 25-year-old Milwaukee resident who’s chairman of the Democratic National Committee’s Youth Council.
Recent history suggests Republicans can hardly do worse among young voters than in 2008, when Obama beat John McCain by 34 percentage points nationally. In past presidential elections, the gap has been much closer, often in single digits. The Democratic candidate has won the group most of the time since 1972, losing only in 1976, 1984 and 1988.
“I do think there’s big opportunity there for Republicans,” said Peter Levine, who directs a national organization that studies youth voting. “They got totally blown out among young people last time and I think this campaign sees a chance to do much better.”
New generation of voters
Ryan, 42, burnished his pop culture credentials by referring to his iPod playlist “that starts with AC/DC and ends with Zeppelin” in a speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa last month. He also appealed directly to young voters.
“College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters,” he said.
Ben Sparks, spokesman for the Romney campaign in Wisconsin, said the campaign also will reach out to first-time voters between ages 18 and 24.
“The majority of them weren’t involved in the rock-star, hope-and-change campaign,” he said. “They’ve come of age in the middle of a recession. They’re focused on not how good a speaker their candidate is, but on what their job prospects look like and whether they’ll have to move back in with their parents.”
Supporters of Obama point out his accomplishments that have directly benefitted them, especially the reform of the nation’s health care system. It upped the age young people qualify for their parents’ health care coverage to 26, expanding access to more than 3 million young people. They also point to his ending the war in Iraq, expanding the federal Pell Grant program, repealing the military’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy and supporting marriage for same-sex couples.
“We’re still very energized by what he’s done and what he stands for,” said Lavilla Capener, a 2010 UW-Madison graduate who now lives in Milwaukee.
Republicans said they see the health care expansion to include people up to 26 as a symptom of another failure.
“That’s a fallout from us having such a bad economy,” Sparks said. “More and more kids are dependent on their parents.”