May 8, 2010

When I interviewed Howard Dean last year, he told me that the White House was gearing its "bipartisan" positions toward those polls showed were supported by the same young voters that propelled him to office. I guess when the economic rubber hit the road, eloquence wasn't enough to hold their interest. They wanted results:

More than 1.6 million college graduates are about to emerge into a cutthroat job market, one where last year's graduates are still scrambling to land entry-level positions.

Class of 2010, meet the competition: the Class of 2009. "It's discouraging right now," says 24-year-old Matt Grant, who graduated 10 months ago from Ohio State University with a degree in civil engineering and three internships. He finally has a job—as a banquet waiter at a Clarion Inn near Akron. Grant has applied for more than 100 engineering positions around the country. "It's getting closer to the Class of 2010 ," Grant says. "I'm starting to worry more."

So is the Obama Administration. The plight of the young and cubicle-less could hurt the Democrats in midterm elections. The youthful voters who helped propel the party to victory in 2006 and 2008 show signs of waning enthusiasm amid their economic travails. "It's definitely tamped down the energy and the excitement and activism that the Obama campaign had sparked among that entry-level age group," says Democratic strategist Joe Trippi, who advised Howard Dean's 2004 Presidential campaign and is involved in several midterm races. "The problem is they have other things to worry about now."

The party's lead among younger voters already has dropped sharply. While in 2008 Democrats held a 62-percent-to-30-percent advantage over Republicans among "millennials" born after 1980, that 32-point margin shrank by the end of March to 18. Then, 55 percent leaned Democratic, vs. 37 percent Republican, according to polls conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press from October 2009 to March 2010.

The young are also growing alienated by politics in general—and Obama in particular. Interest in voting has dropped faster among the under-30 set than any other age group. In March, only 44 percent of registered voters under 30 said they were "absolutely certain" to vote this year, vs. 78 percent in June 2008, according to Pew polls. Some of the disillusionment extends to the President. "I was inspired by how he was talking about creating new jobs," says Grant, who voted for Obama in 2008 but is unsure how he will vote this fall. "I guess it takes a lot to get things changed."

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