Oct. 1, 2012 at 12:14 PM ET
In 2008, while attending art school in Atlanta, Whitney Walker went with friends to a presidential debate-watching party. Then-candidate Barack Obama easily won her over.
“I agreed with everything Obama had to say. I voted for him because he was going to make this country great and fix these problems we were having,” she said.
That was then.
Today, four years later, Walker attends a college in Raleigh, N.C., and no longer studies photography. The 24-year-old senior switched her major to communications to improve her chances of landing a job in her field after she graduates, something that has eluded many of her friends.
“I don’t want to work at Starbucks when I graduate. I want a big-girl job,” she said.
And that’s partly why this registered Democrat joined the College Republicans last summer and will vote for Mitt Romney this fall.
Whitney is one of a handful of youthful faces in a new Romney ad featuring voters who plan to switch their support to the Republican candidate in November.
The Romney campaign hopes to draw young Americans who have become disenchanted with Obama since supporting him four years ago. They also want to convince first-time voters that Romney is the country’s best chance for “hope and change,” a mindset that proved critical in Obama’s victory in 2008.
But the Romney campaign has its work cut out for them. A recent poll shows that despite a plunge in attention to this year’s election among young Americans compared to this point in the 2008 campaign, the youth vote still leans heavily in favor of Obama.
A survey released Sept. 19 by the Pew Research Center found that 61 percent of likely voters ages 18 to 29 would vote for keeping the president in office for another term, while only 31 percent said they would vote for Romney.
However, that’s only if those young voters even make it to the polls in November. Pew released a new survey last week that found young Americans are paying significantly less attention to this year’s election — and fewer of them plan to vote — than during the same time in the 2008 campaign. Those that do plan to head to the polls next month lean heavily in favor of Obama.
Among registered voters age 30 or younger, the share of voters who have given a lot of thought to the election is 48 percent – a plunge from the 65 percent who said the same at this time four years ago, according to the survey released Sept. 28 by the Pew Research Center.
The survey also found fewer young Americans even registered to vote: about half of adults under 30 said they were certain they were, compared to the 61 percent in 2008. Tobin Van Ostern, the 2008 national director of the Students for Barack Obama campaign, said that many young Americans are still in the stages of making up their minds.
“I think you’re having young people who are perhaps disillusioned with the election process after the last time, and who just haven’t decided who to vote for yet this time, but I wouldn’t say it’s an exodus from Obama to Romney,” said Van Ostern, 24, who is now policy manager for Campus Progress, a project of the Center for American Progress.
Van Ostern acknowledged the political and economic climate now differ vastly from four years ago.
For example, the unemployment rate for adults ages 18 to 24 nearly doubled the overall rate, according to federal data tabulated by the Pew Research Center. In 2011, the jobless rate was 16.3 percent. It has improved to 15.1 percent through June of 2012, but far greater than the national average that has hovered above 8 percent.
But Van Ostern thinks young voters will be won over by milestones achieved under Obama’s watch, such as health care legislation that has provided coverage for millions of young adults under their parents’ policy.
“Most people in this category decide at the end,” he said.
That was the case four years ago for Tyler Slezak, a 22-year-old senior at Wake Forest University.
“I was really 50-50 leading up to November,” he said. “I remember talking to friends. We were all really conflicted.”
Slezak, a registered Republican from a conservative family, voted for Obama after finding his campaign “unbelievably inspiring.” His dad had just lost his banking job, and his mom struggled to pay household bills with her longtime job as a private school teacher.
Slezak, who also appears in the new Romney ad, said he plans to support his party’s candidate this time around.
“It’s really tough to see an outright plan from either side that would fix everything, but I do earnestly believe that Mitt and Paul (Ryan) would enact more effective changes,” said the economics and political science double major. A big factor in his decision was his impending employment status.
“I’m going to be graduating next year and I would love a job,” he said. “All the polling suggests it might be tough.”