Disenchantment among millennial voters is the latest worry for Democrats fighting to hold their Senate majority.
Young voters rallied to President Obama’s side when he first ran for the White House in 2008, and then defied predictions that their enthusiasm would drop off in 2012.
Plagued by unemployment and economic anxiety, 18- to 34-year-olds feel a sense of disappointment in the party it helped boost in previous elections, political observers say.
Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and former spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said the promise of “hope and change millennials invested in has hit a brick wall.”
Manley said that this in turn has made young voters “very cynical about the political process and less likely to vote than they had in the past.”
Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, agreed that winning over young voters is an issue for Democrats.
“Obama in 2008 had been successful at exciting millennials about political institutions they distrusted and giving them faith in an economy that really wasn’t delivering on the American dream,” Zelizer said.
Since then, Zelizer added, Obama “seems like politics as normal while the economy continues to crawl.”
“Democrats have failed to really lock in their support,” he said.
A poll released earlier this year showed a significant decline in the number of Democratic-leaning millennials who planned to vote in the midterm elections.
The survey, conducted by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, found that young voters are increasingly turned off by the political environment.
It revealed that a mere 23 percent of Democratic-leaning millennials said they would vote in the midterm elections. That was down from the 31 percent who said they would vote in the 2010 midterm elections. (Only 24 percent actually showed up at the polls that year.)
At the same time, the poll indicated that 32 percent of conservative-leaning millennials said they would vote in the election.
“We’ve seen a growing disenchantment with Democrats generally,” John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Institute of Politics, said in an interview.
While millennials were an important part of the Democratic coalition in recent election cycles, that same coalition appeared to be “fractured” now — something that should concern Democrats, Della Volpe said.
Sensing a weakness, Republicans have pounced.
Since losing the 2012 election, Republican National Committee officials have tried to figure out where they went wrong and how they could better appeal to various demographic groups, including young voters.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) hired a national youth director after, one RNC official acknowledged, the committee learned that it wasn’t “paying enough attention.”
“Now we are engaging with them in ways we’ve never done before,” the RNC official said.
But that doesn’t mean that Republicans are “winning the hearts and minds” of Democratic-leaning millennials, Della Volpe said.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a lot of enchantment with Republicans now,” he said. It simply means that Democrats are less likely to participate this cycle.
Democratic National Committee (DNC) officials maintain that they are still doing well among young voters in tight races across the country.
In Colorado, for example, Sen. Mark Udall (D) led his opponent 59 to 22 percent among voters age 18-29, according to a Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey released this week.
In Kentucky, Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) led Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), 46 to 38 percent, among voters who are 18-34 years of age, according to a poll released this month by the WKU Social Research Center.
And in North Carolina, Sen. Kay Hagan (D) led Republican Thom Tillis 61 to 27 percent among voters age 18-29, according to a PPP poll also released this week.
A DNC official said most young voters agree that the Democratic Party has their best interests at heart.