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Generation Obama
Can Barack Obama's re-election campaign reignite the youth vote in 2012?

By Alex Mendoza

CHAPEL HILL - As the race for the White House begins to take off, students who were not yet old enough to vote in 2008 are preparing to cast a ballot in a presidential contest for the first time next November. How they vote could play a significant role in deciding the outcome of election 2012.

The Obama campaign took America by storm in the last presidential contest. Groups that usually had the lowest voter turnout -- minorities and young voters -- showed up at the polls in strong numbers. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, voter turnout in 2008 was its highest amongst young people since 1992, with roughly 23 million young adults casting a ballot. These young voters supported Obama by a 2-1 margin over Republican John McCain.

However, after Obama took office, the realities of governing set in. Over the past three years there has been skepticism over his accomplishments and questions of whether Obama has fulfilled his campaign promise of change.

The Obama camp places particular emphasis on young voters. Students for Barack Obama, the official student group of the campaign, has thousands of members and stresses the importance of elections on campus. According to BarackObama.com, the website of the president’s re-election campaign, UNC-Chapel Hill was home to a group titled Tar Heels for Obama in 2008, which pushed for student involvement in that year’s election.

The group, active again, allows for young supporters of Obama to gather and contribute to the campaign. It uses social networking, such as Facebook and Twitter, to reach out to young voters and engage them in political issues. The kick-off meeting for the group's 2012 efforts was recently held to highlight the importance of campaign involvement and to make an initiative to register young voters.

Today’s young voters have watched the rise of Obama through his campaign and his presidency. Even if they were not old enough to vote for Obama in 2008, they witnessed many of their peers engage in the political system for the first time that year, motivated by the high ideals and lofty goals set by the Obama campaign. For the president and his re-election team, a pivotal question will be whether those young voters are still inspired enough to be a force for his campaign at the polls.

“I will most likely be voting for Obama in next year’s election because I feel most of the ideas he ran on during his first campaign were long-term plans,” UNC-Chapel Hill sophomore economics major Charles Kress said. “It would be a waste of four years if we do not allow him the chance to finish everything he has been working on.”

Not all students maintain as much hope in Obama after observing his policies as president.

“I will not vote for Obama this year because I think he has done a poor job managing our economy,” sophomore business major Casey Brown said.

Brown did not support Obama in the last election. She said if Obama were to be re-elected, though, she would hope to see him minimize future government involvement in economic matters.

David Drandorff, a junior majoring in exercise and sports science, had just turned 18 during the last presidential election and voted for the first time then. He supported John McCain in 2008 but said he does not know who he will favor in the upcoming election.

“I probably will not support Obama but it depends on who the Republican candidate is,” Drandorff said. “I hope [Obama] would be able to create more job opportunities for upcoming college graduates.”

As they face high student-loan debt and daunting job prospects, many students feel their economic fortunes could be directly affected by the outcome of next year’s race for the White House, motivating them to weigh their choices carefully. Sophomore environmental sciences major Katrina Phillips is planning on involving herself in the elections by becoming more educated before casting her ballot.

“I am planning on learning about the candidates,” Phillips said. “I plan to watch the presidential debates and read about their positions on important issues.”

Phillips said she supported Obama in the last election because she “saw him as a candidate representing positive change in our nation’s future.”

“I think Obama has had success and could continue this success if re-elected,” Phillips said. “I hope to see Obama do more towards environmental protection and conservation.”

Regardless if they support Obama or the Republican candidate next year, many young voters feel strongly about the Obama administration, whether it be for its successes or failures.

“I think if [Obama] is given another term to work with he will be able to accomplish a lot of what he promised to do during his initial campaign,” Kress said.

In his quest to win four more years in the White House, surely Obama hopes many more students share Kress’ patience toward the candidate that electrified the youth vote with the promise of hope and change three years ago.

Alex Mendoza is a public relations major at UNC-Chapel Hill and the fall 2011 intern with the N.C. Center for Voter Education.