Since relaunching his reelection campaign earlier this month, President Barack Obama has had some serious face time with the youth.
In the past few weeks, Obama has delivered a speech on the federal debt in front of students at George Washington University; talked Pell grants and the deficit at a town hall at Northern Virginia Community College; and addressed the Facebook nation with a live appearance at its Palo Alto headquarters. And in his early fundraisers, he's played to the under-40 set — Gen 44, in Obama campaign-speak — in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and now New York.
Sharing the stage with hip hop band The Roots at New York's Town Hall is just the latest in a concerted effort to energize his coveted 18-39 demographic - the same one that lent their energy and idealism to his 2008 campaign.
During his latest NYC stop, the president is not exclusively making his pitch to young folks — he’s also rubbing elbows with high-dollar donors at the Waldorf Astoria and at the home of former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine — but the Obama campaign has made it plain that “new voters” continue to be a key target for the Obama reelection plan.
In a strategy video the Obama campaign released earlier this week, campaign manager Jim Messina pointed to Obama’s 38-point edge over McCain in first-time voters in 2008.
“That made real differences in very close states across this country,” Messina said “We’ve got to do that again in 2012.”
Young people certainly provided energy and visibility, but a report from the Pew Research Center points out that exit polls show they did not tip the election for Obama in 2008.
And Obama still has the support of young people — he scored a 55-percent approval rating in a Harvard Institute of Politics poll of young Americans conducted in February and March — but approval rating is a lot different than an excitement rating.
In the same poll, when asked specifically about his handling of Afghanistan and the economy, more young people disapproved than approved. Only 38 percent said they planned to vote for Obama in 2012. Thirty-six percent said they didn’t know who’d they’d support.
President Obama has shown that he knows he’s got work to do to reenergize the progressive wing of the Obama movement of 2008. In at least one case, that’s meant seeking out the most vocal liberal opponents, and stressing to them that he’s still their guy.
When 10,000 young clean-energy activists gathered in Washington a few weeks ago, with plans to highlight their disappointment with his administration’s energy policy, Obama surprised them by dropping by.
“The president told us he wants the same things we want, but the politics in the country are really hard right now,” a skeptical organizer Maura Cowley told The Nation. “We said that’s fine, but he can’t call coal, oil, nuclear and natural gas clean energy when actually they are quite dangerous."
That sounds like classic world-weary politicking, and if that's any indication, Obama may have more work to do to win over his former upstart activist base. That's where the rockstars come in.