If there was any doubt that the tidal wave of enthusiasm among young voters that fueled President Obama’s 2008 run has long since receded, a new poll on the millennial generation’s political leanings in the upcoming election cements it.
The Harvard Institute of Politics’ national survey of 18- to 29-year-olds, released on Wednesday, found that while likely young voters favor Obama by a 19-point margin—55 percent to Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s 36 percent—only 48 percent say that they definitely plan to vote next month.
On every issue, from the economy to immigration to health care to foreign affairs, young voters said they trust the president more than Romney. Nonetheless, the Romney supporters appear to be more enthusiastic, with 66 percent who support the former Massachusetts governor saying they will definitely vote, compared to 55 percent of Obama backers.
In 2008, Obama won Indiana, North Carolina, and Virginia with the help of young voters. If all the under-30s had stayed home, the historically red states would have remained in the GOP column.
The poll results point to disappointment, not necessarily in Obama, but in the political system as a whole. Sixty-two percent said that Obama inherited circumstances too big and too complex to be remedied in one term, while only 33 percent said that the president has failed.
Meanwhile, almost four in 10 millennials said that it doesn’t matter who is elected because Washington is broken. A quarter of them said that neither candidate represents their views, and almost three-quarters admitted to not being politically active.
All signs indicate that young voter turnout will not be shattering any records on Nov. 6. In 2008, 18- to 29-year-old voters posted the third-highest turnout since 1972, and broke for Obama over Republican nominee John McCain by a 2 to 1 ratio.
“If I’m on the president’s campaign I would be concerned. Young voters are one of his key coalition demographics,” said John Della Volpe, the institute’s polling director. “But a part of this is not just about the candidates, it’s a lack of interest in the election process and whether those votes matter.”
The survey was taken over the Internet from Sept. 19 to Oct. 3, and had a sample size of 2,123 adults ages 18 to 29. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 2 percentage points.