SALT LAKE CITY — A bold, colorful website full of video clips asks: “Are you part of the Crossroads Generation?”
It highlights unemployment rates and that student loan debt is exceeding $1 trillion. The site points out that 42 percent of all college graduates have moved in with their parents. The information is geared to court millennial Republican voters, those under age 30, which is proving a hard group to reach.
A recent Pew research study shows millennial voters are fertile ground for both parties, making up 19.9 percent of the population. But the 63 percent of 18- to 30-year-old voters who said they were “psyched” about the presidential election in April of 2008 has evaporated this election year.
In April this year, only 45 percent said they were eager to cast a vote, the study found. That’s in spite of a Harvard study of young voters that found 78 percent think the nation is headed in the right direction. Only 14 percent of those voters are or recently have been politically active.
University of Utah student Zach Slagowski is among those sought after voters, although he said he still will vote for President Obama.
“One of the things with 2008 was it was an exciting campaign, and they thought change was right around the corner,” the 21-year-old said. “And this year, I don’t feel like people are that excited about it.”
His best friend and fraternity brother agreed. Ben Haynes said he and Zach were more interested than most of their friends in the presidential race — and the pair are not that excited about the campaign this time around.
“In this election year, I’m not super passionate,” Haynes said. “I was much more passionate when Barack Obama was first elected. That was one of the coolest campaigns I’ve ever seen. But he’s kind of old news now.”
Haynes also said he planned to re-elect the president and predicted Obama would win a second term.
But the Crossroads Generation website is seeking to convert voters like Slagowski and Haynes to the GOP, by tapping into issues young people care about: the economy and jobs.
Student Kendahl Melvin is paying attention to those issues. “I have a few years left of college, and I have to worry about student debt, I have to worry about what I’m going to do when I graduate,” Melvin said. She was looking for leadership in Washington and was skeptical about both parties’ ability to really solve the issues.
Websites like Crossroads Generation, Facebook and Twitter are essential in reaching young voters.
High school senior Kyle Palmer is active as head of Utah Teenage Republicans. The 18-year-old organized debates among congressional candidates this year, coordinated events, held fundraisers and used social media to spread the word. He said online venues like Facebook are the only way candidates can really reach his generation.
“Republicans are hitting social media a lot more than they did. We learned that lesson four years ago in the GOP,” Palmer said, referring to the president’s ability to reach young voters when John McCain lagged behind in that area. “It’s going to continue to play a big role and will in future elections too.”
But even reaching out through social media may not be enough to motivate young voters in Utah, who don't have an impressive voting record.
“Even in 2008, where there was a great increase in youth voter participation," said Ellesse Sorbonne, outreach coordinator at the U.’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, "Utah ranked third worst in the nation, which is pretty dismal.”