Obama's approval rating among 18- to 29-year-olds hovers around 50 percent (after almost a year of bad press for the GOP). But a late 2011 Harvard survey found that only 12 percent of young people felt the country was moving in the right direction. An outfit called Generation Opportunity, which is trying to organize young voters on economic issues, finds that 77 percent of young people have had to put their lives on hold because of the economy.
In short, conditions are not ripe for an Obama youth tsunami.
The trick for Romney isn't to pander to young voters. He'll never beat Obama and the Democrats at that game. But Romney can turn things to his advantage. He needs to contrast himself with Obama in ways that highlight Obama's desperate need to seem cool to compensate for his failures. Nothing turns off young people more than pretending to be "down with the youth" as it were.
Indeed, Romney should take some lessons from Ron Paul on this score. There is quite literally nothing hip or cool about Paul, but of all the politicians this cycle, he probably generates the most excitement among young voters. Now, part of Paul's appeal Romney cannot copy. Paul's esoteric and conspiratorial theorizing about the Federal Reserve, for instance, won't help Romney in the general election.
But what Romney can learn from the 76-year-old Paul is the appeal of authentic nerd chic. It's cool to be really into your issues and interests. And one of the things that distinguishes the millennial generation is an understanding that nerds -- Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs et al. -- get things done, and get rich as a result.
After four years of dashed expectations, a studiously uncool Romney might offer a welcome contrast to Obama's audacity of hype.