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Youth vote not as fired up as in 2008. Could that trip up Obama?

Voters under 30 gave President Obama his margin of victory in at least three states in 2008. In a close race, he'll need the youth vote on Nov. 6 more than ever. But it's not clear he'll get it in the numbers he needs.

By Staff writer / November 6, 2012

President Obama gestures during a speech at a campaign rally at the University of Colorado, in Boulder, on Nov. 1.

Brennan Linsley/AP

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Boulder, Colo.

Madeline Eckles made sure she registered to vote this year, and recently received her mail-in Colorado ballot. But the University of Colorado senior isn’t planning to fill it out.

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“As an econ major, a lot of my views line up with [Mitt] Romney, but a lot of my values line up with [President] Obama,” says Ms. Eckles, as she grabs a snack with a friend at the university’s student center. “I’ve been kind of back and forth on who I wanted to vote for, so I decided not to vote.”

Four years ago, President Obama got nearly 16 million votes from so-called Millennials – young voters between ages 18 and 29. Not only did they vote for him over the GOP's John McCain by more than a 2-to-1 margin, but more of them voted than in almost any previous election since 18-year-olds were granted the vote in 1972. In three states – Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana – Mr. Obama won the state because of voters under the age of 30.

This year, with polls showing the race much closer than in 2008, Obama needs that youth vote more than ever. But it’s not clear if he’ll get it, at least in the numbers he’d like.

Polls show that young voters are less enthusiastic this year, and turnout may drop after steady gains in each election since 1996 (when youth turnout was at an all-time low). While young people still overwhelmingly support Obama over Mr. Romney, the margins aren’t as wide as they were four years ago when Senator McCain was the Republican nominee.

Obama “has a number of different pathways that I think can get him [to victory], but this is an important group,” says Scott Keeter, survey director for the Pew Research Center. “And I think the fact that it’s more up for grabs, both in terms of the split in vote among young people and in terms of the enthusiasm, is one reason the Obama campaign has been stressing social issues more at the end of the campaign.”

At an Obama rally at Boulder’s CU campus just five days before the election – his third visit there this year – Sen. Michael Bennett (D) of Colorado, in remarks to the crowd of 10,000 before Obama arrived, hit hard on those social issues – which are often important to younger voters in particular.

“Every vote is going to matter,” Senator Bennett told the crowd, many of them college students. “We need to vote today so we can make college more affordable, so we can make sure every young person can get a good education…. We need you to vote to keep politicians out of decisions best left to a woman and her doctor. We need you to vote to protect the rights of our LGBT friends…. That’s what’s at stake, Colorado, that’s the choice in this election.”

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