Fielding a wide range of questions in a youth town hall meeting on Thursday, President Barack Obama best summed up the day’s message with his last sentence: “Don’t forget to vote Nov. 2nd.”
As part of his mid-term election campaign to re-energize a youth demographic that polls say still favors him but is less likely to vote than it was two years ago, Obama engaged in an hour-long Q-and-A before a live, televised gathering of 225 young people in Washington, D.C.
Viacom, which broadcast the Conversation with President Obama on several of its cable networks and their websites – including MTV, BET and CMT – picked the audience members based on online applications and from among local universities, according to MTV.
The 18 questions – most of which came from pre-selected audience members, with a few from Twitter – dealt with such subjects as education reform, immigration, the economy, Internet bullying and race relations.
Although the president received a standing ovation when he was introduced by BET and MTV co-hosts, the crowd did not seem to be packed only with loyalists. He took some questions from self-identified conservative audience members, and a Twitter message from someone who “fears” that he’ll be re-elected.
“Our goal is to have as diverse an audience as possible in terms of gender, political views, ethnic background, religion and geography,” MTV spokesperson Nate Brown said in an e-mail a few hours before the event, held at BET’s Washington studios.
Many political observers believe that waning enthusiasm among young Democrats and independents for next month’s mid-term elections will help Republicans regain some of the House and Senate seats they have lost since 2006. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 27 percent of Democrats under 30 have given a lot of thought to this election, compared with 47 percent in the 2006 mid-term election. The same poll showed 39 percent of young Republicans have given a lot of thought to the 2010 election.
Such numbers have certainly influenced Obama’s schedule of late: It included a rally for young Democrats in Madison, Wis., several weeks ago, and a rally in Philadelphia last Sunday that featured a performance by the hip-hop band The Roots.
Thursday afternoon’s town hall occurred the same day as the release of a Democratic National Committee ad that urges voters – particularly youth and minorities – to “Make history again” and evokes the 2008 campaign.
Obama framed some of his town hall answers toward his youth audience. When a woman asked about education policy, he mentioned his administration’s creation of a tax break for college students (explained here) and called for reforms to “create an atmosphere in which the best and the brightest go into teaching.”
When a Latino student from Georgetown University asked about how the president would win passage of the DREAM Act to give citizenship to certain immigrant college students and military officers, Obama said, “I actually feel somewhat optimistic that we can get [the DREAM Act] done in the next legislative session.” But he didn’t say how. (A brief report about the Act is here.)
Responding to the final question – from a Howard University student on ways to reduce incarceration rates and raise college completion rates for African-American men – Obama called for initiatives to reach young people as early as preschool to make sure they do not fall off the educational track.
The White House transcript is here.