The youth vote maintained a key role in President Barack Obama’s election in 2008, but enthusiasm for that demographic in 2012 has waned since then.
Harvard’s Institute of Politics released a poll earlier in the month stating that only 48% of young voters “definitely plan” to vote. A drastic drop from the 66% that voted in 2008.
Actor and Obama campaign co-chair Kal Penn, who has actively campaigned in more than 16 battleground states, sharply disagreed with the idea that there was an enthusiasm gap.
“We’re just not seeing that. The thing that we are seeing is a real difference—2008 was about promises—what’s the president going to do if we elect him. Young people came out in huge numbers,” Penn said Friday on Andrea Mitchell Reports. “Now when we’re having similar rallies, similar events, more roundtables—they’re talking about the successes and they're asking really interesting questions that I don’t think we’re seeing either in the media or some of the poll conversations.”
Penn remained adamant about the inaccuracy of the Harvard poll throughout the interview.
“I imagine it doesn’t take into account the scores of young voters that were registered to vote for the first time. If they’re registered to vote for the first time, then they are presumably planning on voting for the first time and those are huge numbers,” Penn said. “The voting rolls have been swelling in places like North Carolina , Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. These are places with first time voters."
Penn also described conversations he had with youth voters who asked questions about the Iraq War and support for the Pell Grant. When they discussed Obama’s accomplishments, they seemed eager to “come out and support the president again.”
However, like many presidents before him, Obama’s term hasn’t been completely dominated by success. Cillizza talked about the disappointment voters have about the change they voted for and what they received in the past four years—with slow moving reforms on issues such as immigration. Penn said to convince those under the age of 35 to vote for Obama, his campaign has to contextualize the successes and what the president can still accomplish if re-elected.
Penn also talked about the role of social media among youth voters during this election and how it’s evolving. Social media acts as a quicker outlet for youth voters to share information.
“[Young people] get a lot of their news from social media from Twitter,” Penn said. “I know we all have friends that rant and rave on Facebook walls about the election and I think what a lot of young people do is respond with a link to—for example—an Obama volunteer page.”