ROBYN GEE, BYLINE: The day before the Iowa caucuses, this Panera Bread just outside Des Moines has been turned into a phone bank. Ten Obama for America volunteers make calls to registered Democrats, reminding them when and where to show up.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: And I just wanted to call and let you and Kevin know that we are getting together to caucus for the president tomorrow night...
GEE: The campaign's Iowa Communication Director John Kraus says the caucuses are a chance to show that President Obama's network from 2008 hasn't disappeared. Despite the state's focus on Republican candidates, Kraus says young Iowans are still connected to the campaign and still devoted to Mr. Obama.
JOHN KRAUS: Whether it's the Iraq War or ending don't ask don't tell, making college more affordable, many of the things that he talked about, in 2008 that inspired a lot of young people to get involved, are issues that he's delivered on.
GEE: But how many young people remain inspired and involved four years later? Twenty-three-year-old Nick Cavanaugh is one of the more than 26,000 young Democrats who caucused for Mr. Obama in 2008. Back then, he was any easy choice for Cavanaugh and his friends.
NICK CAVANAUGH: Definitely Barack Obama. I'm pretty sure everybody was excited about Obama in 2008.
GEE: But this year, Cavanaugh says he doesn't know which candidate his peers support. Apart from a few Facebook posts here and there, no one talks about the caucuses.
CAVANAUGH: It's, you know, the arguing in Washington, man, has really turned me off to it. So I've started ignoring it all. I used to be a lot more politically informed, but not anymore. I just kind of let it go.
GEE: Cavanaugh says he'll still probably vote for Obama in November. But caucusing for him? Definitely not.
And that's the prevailing attitude John Della Volpe, director of polling at Harvard's Institute of Politics, has seen this year when he surveys 18 to 29-year olds.
JOHN DELLA VOLPE: There is a deep pessimism among young people across the country. Only 12 percent of young Americans believe the country is headed currently in the right direction.
GEE: In December, Della Volpe held a focus group in Des Moines with young democrats and independents who supported Mr. Obama's election in 2008. He says they were frustrated that the president, their candidate, hasn't had more success getting his agenda passed Congress. That he didn't change enough in Washington.
VOLPE: I do think young people are certainly kind of sending up a signal, letting both Obama, Republicans know that they're just frustrated. And that they don't see enough change. They don't see as much of an effort of engaging this generation, as they did last election cycle.
GEE: Just how young Iowans send that signal on Caucus Night could be as un-dramatic as not turning out. Others have switched parties, like 25-year-old Matt Heflin of Coralville.
MATT HEFLIN: Never in a million years imagined myself registering as a Republican. Stay away from all Republicans, you know, they're the Dark Side.
GEE: And yet, the former Obama supporter is now running a grassroots campaign office for Ron Paul in this suburb of Iowa City. Heflin says he's a full convert. He'd vote for Paul in November. And he says he's just one of many young liberal voters who are receptive to the Texas congressman's stance on issues, like cutting the military budget and ending the War on Drugs.
HEFLIN: We definitely go to areas that are traditionally much younger, have a higher student population. And when we call people, I (unintelligible) anymore just try to avoid a certain age demographic calling, 'cause I'm just not very successful.
GEE: Which demographic?
HEFLIN: Oh, I'd say anybody over 60 is just not on board with Ron Paul, I've found.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GEE: Don't trust anyone over 60. A strange slogan for supporting a candidate who is 76 years old. But polls show that young republicans and independents are responsible for making Paul a top contender in Iowa. And in hopes of adding young democrats to that support base, the Paul campaign has been handing out pamphlets with instructions on how to register republican, if only just for Caucus Night.
For NPR News, I'm Robyn Gee in Iowa City.
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That story was produced by the Youth Radio Election Desk.
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