Election: Obama Faces Youth Vote Headache

Gary Mitchell, in Ohio

Young people in one of the key battlegrounds of the US election are posing a threat to Barack Obama's chances of victory - by not voting at all.

The president has been campaigning hard for the youth vote in Ohio, which is widely seen as a must-win state for both candidates.

But some students at Bowling Green State University (BGSU) told Sky News Mr Obama had failed to recreate the rock star appeal of his historic 2008 campaign, when hyped-up voters aged under 30 formed a vital part of his achievement.

The president still attracts a larger share of young voters than Mitt Romney, polls suggest, but he is now only polling with a slight overall lead over his rival in Ohio. That means he needs every vote he can get and with each one he loses, he is more exposed to Mr Romney's gains in other areas.

Mr Romney is just as desperate to woo the swing state because no Republican has ever made it to the White House without securing Ohio.

Most students Sky News spoke to at BGSU have a favourite candidate, and most of them plan to vote for Mr Obama. But others said they will probably not even cast a ballot because they have grown weary of election mud-slinging, are unable to decide between the two men, or simply find themselves unmotivated.

A hint of how enthusiasm may be slipping can be found in the latest edition of the campus newspaper, The BG News - a debate between Romney and Obama supporters on Thursday was beaten to the front page of the next day's paper by a story about water filters.

Zack Robb, 19, from Canton, Ohio, said: "The whole thing feels like a 'who do we like less' campaign. I might not even vote."

He said he was sick of seeing candidates' TV adverts filled with put-downs. "I feel like anything that condones just trying to make the other person seem worse isn't worth my time," he said. "I have friends who are die-hards for Mitt and others for Obama - they try to rope me in, but I just don't feel like it's necessary."

Austin Baker, 18, of Fremont, Ohio, also may not vote. He said: "It feels like a choice between the worst of two evils."

Brittany Tedesco, 22, from Cleveland, Ohio, prefers Mr Obama and disagrees with Mr Romney's stance on abortion - but not enough to cast a vote.

"I just don't know enough about them to vote about them," she said.

Josh Bishop, 19, from Van Buren, Ohio, has not even registered to vote. "I don't trust politicians at all.

"It's not a milestone this time around. Him being the first black president is not big any more. He's just the same as any other candidate. Big deal."

Democratic party campaigners have taken to drafting in Obama-branded golf carts to ferry BGSU students from the campus to nearby early-voting booths every day.

But Tristan Saffron-Cottrolo said some students find voting "inconvenient".

The 18-year-old, who is gay, said he favoured Mr Obama partly because Mr Romney is "very anti-homosexual". "Obama's also about getting back into a good economy and I believe he has the right ideas."

Two thirds of young voters backed Mr Obama in 2008, against 32% for John McCain.

Mr Obama continues to enjoy most youth support - one poll from early October found 55% support for Mr Obama among under-30s, compared with 36% for Mr Romney.

But the lead appears to be smaller in swing states, the Harvard Institute of Politics said, and there are signs that a lower turnout is on the cards this year.

The Romney camp now hopes to draw in some of the disillusioned, or at least push them away from Mr Obama. Some TV adverts include young people mocking the president's 2008 campaign slogans.

Daniel Ems, 21, a student Republican campaigner at BGSU, said young non-voters will aid the Republicans.

"Any vote Obama doesn't get, even if that vote doesn't go to Romney, it's like a half-vote for Romney," he told Sky News. "Any of that support we can pull away helps us."

Mike Zickar is a professor at BGSU and chairman of the local Democratic party of Wood County, which has enough "persuadable" voters to make it one of the state's handful of swing counties.

He said there had been a hard push to capture young voters - with 5,000 BGSU students now registered to vote compared with 3,000 four years ago. He expects some student apathy in every election, but agreed it was a concern.

"There's not that hatred of Bush or John McCain that we had in 2008," he said.

"Without hatred toward Romney, young people don't feel as engaged."

Matt Reger, a Bowling Green prosecutor and chairman of the local Republican party, said Mr Obama's appeal to younger voters had dwindled after four years in government.

He said: "In 2008, young people felt like they were taking part in an historic decision. I don't see them as motivated now. Reality has sunk in."