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Study: Under-30 Crowd Less Interested In Voting


This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. In these final weeks before the presidential election, both President Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, are rallying their core voters to turn out on November 6. But the president may find it harder to win big among younger voters this year, as he did in 2008.

A new study shows that people under 30 seem to be less interested in voting. And while those under 30 still favor President Obama by a wide margin, according to polls, those in the group who support Mitt Romney say that they are more likely to go to the polls. NPR's Sonari Glinton went to Ohio, in search of the youth vote.


SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: I'm at the student union at Bowling Green State University, in northwest Ohio. Four years ago, this student union would have been a hotbed of political activity. Now, not quite as much.

MARK SIMONE: I'm Mark Simone. I'm a professor of political science at Bowling Green State University. I've been here 22 years. I think that it had become a fad, almost, in '08; that people were really, really - had a sense that this was historic. I think this election, there's less sense that there's historic issues out there. And I also think that the Republican side is a little more organized than they were in '08 - at least, on our campus.

NICK HEDDLE: I don't feel that any young people like either of the candidates.

GLINTON: Nick Heddle(ph) is 22. He was grabbing lunch with his friends in the union, and he's not sure he'll even vote.

HEDDLE: I feel that they're not speaking on issues that any of us can relate to - 'cause it'll affect us eventually, but I don't think too many of us are concerned with middle-class taxes right now.

GLINTON: Meanwhile, on the other side of the union, Kyle Essway(ph) was also sitting down with friends.

KYLE ESSWAY: For the presidential election, I'm just not impressed with either candidate - Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. So I'm not too - like, I don't really care who wins this year. So that's the only reason I haven't voted, or been as involved as I should have been.

GLINTON: While Essway says he's not really sure he'll vote, his friend Sarah Elfer(ph) says she's definitely going to vote - but because she thinks it's important, not because she likes the candidates.

SARAH ELFER: It's almost like, if someone were voting in this election it'd be like, the lesser of two evils. So it's like, it's really hard to sort of decide, you know, which one's better than the other. And at this point, it's like, well, if you're not involved then it's not your fault for picking the wrong candidate.

GLINTON: That's an example of what pollsters call an enthusiasm gap. Harvard's Institute of Politics conducted a survey that shows that young people 18 to 29 years old, are less pumped up about this election. Harvard's Trey Grayson explains it this way:

TREY GRAYSON: Obama was such a phenomenon four years ago, for this generation; and that's absent this time. It's not that the Romney people, I think, are that - I don't think these voters are that fired up about Mitt Romney. But I think it's just with Obama, it's just - it's been a tough four years. And we see this group pretty much like the broader electorate.

GLINTON: Young people are more likely to support the president; the margin is 55 to 36 percent. But far fewer of them say they'll show up to vote than did the last time. And it's the Romney supporters who are more likely to say they will. Harvard's John Della Volpe and Trey Grayson say being disaffected isn't necessarily a natural state for young people. Here's Trey Grayson:

GRAYSON: They are seeing a political and electoral system that doesn't work very well. So one of the reactions that you're going to have is to say all right, I'm checking out. I'm not going to participate. I'm more disappointed in the decision makers and the elected officials and the politicians. All of us have helped to create the current situation.

JOHN DELLA VOLPE: I'm going to take a slightly different tact.

GLINTON: Harvard's John Della Volpe.

VOLPE: I think young people have responsibility. They're not kids; they're adults. And they have to be responsible for themselves - and for their family soon. But I'd argue that they have responsibility to themselves, and to all of us in the country, to participate at similar numbers that we've seen in the past.

GLINTON: Given the difference that the big numbers of young voters made in 2008, decreasing those numbers will make a big difference in 2012 as well.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.

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