Young voter cynicism could return Omaha to red


September 22nd, 2011

Omaha, NE – Omaha sent its one electoral vote to President Barack Obama in 2008, and an enthusiastic base of young, first-time voters helped to send it to the White House. But since the election, that enthusiasm has become more of a mix of cynicism and some tempered hopefulness. KVNO News talked to young voters in the city to find out just what they’re looking for in 2012.

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“I voted for Obama in 2008 because I thought he would be representative of change,” said Mark Utterback, a twenty-seven year old from Omaha, who drove to Council Bluffs this week for a town hall with Congressman Ron Paul.

In 2008, Omaha became a blue dot on the electoral map, sending its one electoral vote to help Barack Obama get to the White House. (Photo credit The American Presidency Project).

Paul is running as a libertarian candidate for the Republican nomination. And Utterback said he is so disappointed with Obama that Paul is the only candidate he feels he can support.

“So far it’s been much of the same,” he said. “He’s expanded the wars, he’s kept the Patriot Act, he’s kept Guantanamo open, he’s bailed out the banks, he’s had lobbyists in his administration, which is everything he was against. So I think a lot of young people are looking for legitimate change.”

“Well, it tells you what they were looking for and apparently have not found in President Obama,” said Dr. Loree Bykerk, a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska Omaha.

“We know from research that younger people, especially if they first became politically attentive with the Obama candidacy, it’s not surprising for that attachment not to be very durable,” she said. “But it is surprising if they would go from one end of the political spectrum to the other.”

Then Sen. Obama set up campaign offices in Omaha, and stopped by for a rally attended by thousands at the Omaha Civic Center in 2008. (Photo by Robyn Wisch)

One reason they might be taking that disappointment to the opposite end of the political spectrum is a search for authenticity. Andrew Post, a 21-year-old from Omaha who also attended the town hall, said Paul is candid, and communicates in a way he can relate to.

“One of the biggest reasons is he’s all about alternative media,” he said. “And that’s a lot of internet, and a lot of younger folks are basically getting all their news from alternative media, because we want to hear the right stuff. We don’t want to hear what somebody getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to speak of some candidate who’s just blowing whistles.”

Loree Bykerk said young people have been disappointed in President Obama because he hasn’t delivered on some promises: like changing the tone in Washington and getting the troops out of Iraq more quickly.

The hopefulness of President Obama's 2008 campaign is what drew many young voters to the fold. But, in some cases, that hopefulness has turned to cynicism.

But she said that reflects some naïveté among young voters, who expect the President to be able to push through opposition that can be very powerful. But, Bykerk said, what’s more concerning is the cynicism that seems to have sprouted among once-hopeful voters.

“They’ve kind of whiplashed from that hopeful draw of 2008 to being very cynical,” she said. “I don’t know where that leads us as a country but it concerns me. I think it’s something we need to pay attention to.”

But on the University of Nebraska-Omaha campus, there are some Obama voters who retain their hopefulness, although it is somewhat tempered.

“I will definitely vote for him (Obama) again, because I think he deserves a second chance,” said Brittany Redden, a journalism major at UNO.

“A lot of other presidents have been given second terms, and sort of done better the second time around,” she said. “And I think not giving him a second chance is kind of unfair.”

Redden said authenticity is important, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a candidate is best-suited for the job. Ultimately, she said, she’s looking for direction.

“I guess maybe compared to 2008, we’re maybe more cynical and maybe have a little more bleak outlook,” she said. “But I think we’re still hopeful, I think we’re still are excited about an election.”

“I think we are a little confused and we just need guidance, and whoever can provide that would be rewarded.”

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