President Obama begins a two-day college bus tour Thursday, hoping to rally support for economic policies that have failed to gain traction with the GOP in Congress or voters.
Obama will visit four college towns in an effort to win over young voters, who polls suggest have soured on the president.
He’ll travel to state universities in the New York college towns of Buffalo, Syracuse and Binghamton, where he’ll host a town-hall discussion.
The tour comes as polls show support for Obama on the economy dropping.
A Gallup poll released one week ago found the president’s approval rating on the economy slumping to just 35 percent.
Polls conducted by The Economist and YouGov find a 14-point swing in Obama’s approval and disapproval rating among voters aged 18-29 since June.
Obama is expected to tout policies that could appeal to students and their parents during the bus tour, something the White House hopes will turn around his poll numbers.
The effort is also designed to boost Obama ahead of economic fights with Congress in the fall on government spending and the debt ceiling.
“I assume the White House is cognizant of the problems they have with younger voters and are working to address that,” says University of Virginia political analyst Kyle Kondik.
“The target for the message is right. Kids are going back to school, it’s the end of summertime, and the president’s going to try to position himself to be the reasonable person.”
The tour has been billed as a continuation of the economic push that Obama launched last month at Knox College in Illinois, during which he argued his agenda has helped the country battle back from the recession and said his budget priorities would continue to benefit the middle class.
In an email to supporters, Obama said he would offer a new plan “to make college more affordable, tackle rising costs, and improve value for students and their families.”
Warning that his proposals “won't all be popular with everyone,” the president said, nevertheless, it’s “past time that more of our colleges work better for the students they exist to serve.”
The White House hopes their message will resonate with students — and their parents.
According to a Pew Research Center poll released last year, 57 percent of Americans believe colleges fail to provide students good value for their cost. The average tuition at public four-year colleges has more than tripled since 1980, while family incomes have barely increased. Parents and students are increasingly anxious about whether they will be able to afford an education, which is perceived as a necessity for middle-class life in a modern economy.
Obama has also found rare legislative success in pushing for higher education reforms.
During the summer of 2012, the president successfully strong-armed Congress into extending the cut on student loan rates.
Democratic strategist Tad Devine says the president is “smart to keep talking about the economy,” even if he’s struggled to corral momentum behind his proposals.
Devine says Americans are still suffering from “a sort of shell-shock experience” from the depths of the great recession, with the aftereffects leaving people “reluctant to embrace economic optimism, as they were following the recessions in the ‘80s and ‘90s.”
“But consistently coming back to the economy and talking about it with mind-numbing repetition, over the long arc of many months and as long as the economy continues to come forward, is going to resonate,” he said.
Former Democratic National Committee official David Mercer said Obama’s push can help combat perceptions that he is a lame duck or ineffective.
“The belief is, you get better traction when the American people are involved,” Mercer said.
Even Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus acknowledged that the speeches gave Obama a chance “to do what he does best — which is talk and talk and talk.”
Of course, Priebus said the tour would prove ultimately ineffective.
“More campaigning isn’t going to change the fact that the Obama presidency and Democratic policies have made life harder for young Americans,” Priebus said, according to The Journal News.
Convincing young voters otherwise might be the only thing that does make the tour a success. But that might hinge less on the president’s rhetoric and more on circumstances outside his immediate control, like the health of the economy, and the willingness of Congress to back his proposals.
“There isn’t a magic bullet of rhetoric that the president can offer,” Kondik said. “His approval is sort of dependent on the reality on the ground, which trumps any sort of messaging.”