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Young Fla. Voters Still Favor Obama, But Enthusiasm Lags

Noles for Romney
Alejandro Capote

In 2008, Barack Obama moved many young voters to vote for the first time. But have they stuck around in 2012? With less than 50 days to go before the general election, Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are battling for Florida’s young voters, who could make all the difference in the notorious swing state.

Alejandro Capote is a 20-year-old political activist and a junior at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

“I’m so grateful and honored to be here, a part of this country. I became a citizen last year. And this’ll be my first election," he said.

Born in Cuba, Capote moved to Miami at age 6. He was in just the eighth grade when he decided that he’d pursue a career in public service. Nowadays, he gives talks at high schools and campaigns on his campus. He urges other young people to get informed, to sacrifice now for their future grandchildren, and, most pressing at the moment, he said, "to join us in this election because there is an alternative choice out there, and his name is Mitt Romney."

Capote was an alternate delegate and the youngest from Florida at the Republican National Convention in Tampa last month. He says, with so many college grads unable to find jobs, Romney is his obvious choice.   

“That’s the main thing in people’s mind right now: jobs, jobs, jobs. Once again, 12.5 million people are out of work today. The policies that have been done for the past four years haven’t worked. So, something has to change," he said.

Views like that put Capote squarely in the political minority among voters under age 30, according to Florida State University public policy professor Lance deHaven-Smith.

“There are a lot of young people who won’t be involved in politics, who are not as well-off as college students. But the college students tend to be engaged politically, and I think the college students have become even more liberal since 2008," he said.

Young people have voted overwhelmingly liberal since the ‘60s, dehaven-Smith says, with the exception of people who were teenagers during the Reagan presidency. According to a recent poll of likely Florida voters, Obama still carries 61 percent of the under-30 group. They include University of Central Florida student Michelle Torres, who, like many young voters, says her decision is based on social issues.  

“I myself am not gay, but being told you can’t have the same basic right just because you love somebody of the same gender, I’m not OK with that," she said.

But Torres says, she’s not overly enthusiastic about voting for Obama, even though he supports gay marriage.

"While I am not a fan of Mitt Romney, I’m not exactly sure where I stand on Obama yet. I don’t feel that he’s done enough in the past four years," she said.

deHaven-Smith says, that wishy-washy attitude among a lot of young voters means, many of the 22 million young people who voted for Obama in 2008 might just stay home this time. Polls show only 36 percent of young Florida voters identify as "very enthusiastic" about the election.

“If they stay home, that could have as much effect, almost, as if they voted for Romney," he said. "Obama has to have a big turnout.”

First Lady Michelle Obama made no secret of it at a recent Tallahassee campaign stop.

" Our young people, like so many of you here, you all have always driven Barack’s campaigns with your energy and your passion," she said.

And, a new youth-geared radio ad is in rotation on pop music stations across the Florida. In it, President Obama says, “I’ve seen your generation eager to make a difference. We’ve gotta move forward. We can’t go backward.”

Romney’s campaign website has a young voters page, where people can sign up to be campus activists. He’s also released a smart phone app called Mitt Events that alerts users to upcoming rallies. And, appealing to young people who might be disillusioned with the president, George P. Bush just did a Florida college campus tour.  

“The No. 1 concern that we hear is, what are my economic prospects? What kind of job can I get?” he said on the tour's Gainesville stop.

But even if the Romney campaign can’t win over the Democratic-leaning age group, the election could tip in Romney’s favor if less-than-enthusiastic young Florida voters decide to stay home on November 6.