Obama's youth base lags in health care fight, but momentum building
They turned out en masse to propel President Barack Obama to victory last year, but young voters now have turned lethargic on his latest challenge — health care reform.“It definitely can be said that young people aren’t excited about health care; it’s not as glamorous as the campaign,” said Mika Rothman, 21, an NYU senior and Obama supporter. “It’s not necessarily something that affects us on a day-to-day basis.” The fact that the 18-29 voting bloc is more likely to be in good health could be keeping it away from this issue, experts said. “There’s a dichotomy,” said Steve Behar, a City Council candidate who volunteered for Obama’s presidential campaign. “I’m encountering that dichotomy every day. I speak with seniors and they’re so concerned about health care but young grassroots leaders are more concerned with other issues.” In the face of aggressive and effective opposition at town halls and on airwaves, Obama is struggling to sell his ambitious overhaul. The president’s key to success, many said, could be an untapped grassroots force. The White House’s Organizing for America network reportedly has a list of 13 million e-mail addresses. During the election, volunteers worked phones, knocked on doors and crossed state lines to sell Obama. These tactics could work again for health care reform, many said. “I don’t think it’s that people aren’t interested, it’s that they’re unsure of what they can actually do to get legislation passed,” said Leah Martin, 21, a recent Columbia University graduate who suggested reform proponents tour colleges to educate on health care. Some in New York are stepping up efforts to boost Obama’s initiative. Three weeks in the making, Organizing for America and grassroots groups have planned a health insurance reform rally Saturday at 2 p.m. in Times Square. Across the U.S., about 2,000 similar rallies and bus tours are set to begin today and will continue through Labor Day. But the administration and supporters could be too late with this push. “They have to hit this with all the power they had during the election,” said Gigi Khadivian, a 27-year-old Obama supporter from Brooklyn. “The Republicans are fighting. This is their rallying point and they’re doing a really good job. I think it’s obvious that the administration and Obama’s supporters were caught off guard by this.” Tim Foley, a coordinator for grassroots NYC for Change, also behind the Times Square event, said educating voters on the convoluted bill, still being hashed out by Congress, is the priority. His group has been hosting house parties and phones since the winter. “Confusion, intimidation. I think that’s a larger aspect of why some people do not get involved.”
“Some folks may have thought because there’s a Democratic Congress and because we elected President Obama that he would just take care of it, but many other people believe it would take movement,” said Foley, who blogs on health care on Obama’s Change.org Web site. “That level of empowerment will make all the difference in the world.” The crucial younger demographic must also be on board, some said. “They will be affected eventually,” said Lamont Carolina, 25, of Brooklyn, a former Obama field organizer with a heavy hand in Saturday’s rally. “At one point or another in our lives we will all be affected by this issue.” Jason Fink contributed to this story.