Youth Fervor High At DNC, But Lagging Behind 2008

Alejandra Salinas, president of the College Democrats of America, says the group's numbers have been growing in key states like Florida and Ohio. i i

hide captionAlejandra Salinas, president of the College Democrats of America, says the group's numbers have been growing in key states like Florida and Ohio.

Brett Myers/Youth Radio for NPR
Alejandra Salinas, president of the College Democrats of America, says the group's numbers have been growing in key states like Florida and Ohio.

Alejandra Salinas, president of the College Democrats of America, says the group's numbers have been growing in key states like Florida and Ohio.

Brett Myers/Youth Radio for NPR

Over the past few weeks, President Obama has been heavily courting the youth vote with visits to college campuses in swing states nationwide. And at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., there's been a big push for youth involvement, with 644 delegates under the age of 35, and even an official youth engagement coordinator.

Polls show support for Obama among 18- to 29-year-olds at around 55 percent, slightly down from when he was elected in 2008.

But at the first Youth Press Conference of the DNC, Alejandra Salinas, president of the College Democrats of America, disagreed with the notion that there's "a lack of enthusiasm on college campuses" for Obama.

"I want to give you some real tangible examples of that not being the case," Salinas says. "We as an organization of college Democrats have seen incredible growth since 2008."

Salinas, who is scheduled to speak at the DNC on Thursday, says her group keeps adding chapters in key states like Florida and Ohio. She's passionate about the president, and pointed to his administration's policy change on student loans, which helped her.

"If interest rates had gone up to 6.6 percent, that would be tens of thousands of dollars more that I would be paying in just interest alone if that policy had passed. That's just a personal example how I am better off," Salinas says.

She also says she's grateful to be staying on her parents' insurance, thanks to health care reform. And in her opinion, Obama still has the "cool factor": She points to his now-famous "slow jamming the news" on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

The Obama campaign is also using social media to reach out. They say they sent out more tweets in the weekend before the DNC than in the entire 2008 election season.

But Jean-Patrick Grillet, 20, a volunteer at the convention, questions whether that's a good strategy. When North Carolinians were voting on a constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 1, to ban gay marriage earlier this year, the issue became all the buzz on social media.

"And so everybody's getting on Facebook, and that's all they see," Grillet says. "And they say to themselves, well, 'I don't have to vote, my 500 friends are going to vote for that.' And then Amendment 1 passed, and it was a really, really sad day."

Grillet is a young, white, male voter — the demographic analysts say is the most unpredictable this election. He says he's looking for honesty and strong stances, and watched the Republican convention in Tampa to see if the Republicans could sway him. But, he says, he didn't feel the party stood firm on issues he cared about.

At the end of the day, it was Obama's stand on gay rights that won him over.

"I think I was undecided up until a few weeks ago," says Grillet. "I was kind of holding out for Ron Paul to win the Republican ticket, because I don't consider him a Republican; I consider him more Libertarian third party. But now that it's officially Romney against Obama, I'm definitely going Obama."

While most of the young people Youth Radio talked to were Obama supporters, some say the president still has work to do to convince the remaining undecided young voters.

When stopped outside the official youth events at the DNC, some young attendees express fears of lost momentum compared with 2008. Rachelly Then, 19, sees it in her social circle.

"The number of people I know my age that are gonna vote is way less than the people my age I know that are not gonna vote," Then says.

Then's friend Merancia Fils, 21, adds that there is a lack of urgency among her peers, and a sense that political issues don't affect them yet. She says President Obama has to convey to young people that he needs them.

"Once he makes us aware that there is a need, then I feel like our generation will get more involved," Fils says. "We don't feel like there's a need."

Voters between 18 and 29 years old make up close to 20 percent of the electorate. Analysts say they are still an important block. And in a close election, President Obama could need their votes to win.

The audio for this story was produced by Youth Radio.

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