In 2008, Barack Obama inspired a generation of young people to campaign, get politically active and vote — all of which undoubtedly played a role in his becoming the first black president in U.S. history.
Four years later, just hours before voters across the country will cast their ballots, every major poll is predicting a toss-up between the president and his challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
If Obama were to lose – something that seemed far-fetched just a few months ago – would the message symbolized by his last victory give way to a more cynical view of race and politics? Would the hope he inspired in a generation of young people turn into despair? Or, did Obama’s victory in 2008 usher the nation into an age of post-racial politics, one where today’s young people won’t care one way or the other what happens on Election Day?
New America Media asked young people from four communities in California (San Jose, Long Beach, Merced and the eastern Coachella Valley): What message would an Obama defeat send to young people of color? And what message would an Obama victory send?
The common thread that emerged in their responses was clear: Race and identity in American politics still mean a great deal. And although enthusiasm for Obama’s performance as president varied by individual, nearly every young person said that a defeat would be a setback, both psychological and material, for young people of color.
Ana Llimet, 16, Merced
If Obama loses I believe that young people of color will start to think they’re not as smart as non-colored people. People will talk about mistakes [Obama] has made and the kids will think that the first black president messed up America. They’ll feel lower than before.
If Obama wins I believe young people of color will be proud. They’ll see a [person of color] be president for two terms, which is truly amazing because of America’s history and its background in slavery. It would get young people of color to believe they can achieve.
Jesus Perez, 17, Atwater
If Obama loses the election, many people of color will be discouraged. It would show that the “black man” isn’t good enough to be president.
If Obama wins the election, young people of color will be further inspired. It would show that minorities are as good as white folks, because a minority president was elected twice in a row.
Veronica Sandoval, 17, Merced
If Obama is defeated I believe the message sent would still be positive, just because he has already served four years. He made history for people of color in the U.S.
If Obama won the presidential election again, it would … demonstrate not only to youth of color, but to all young people, that anything is possible.
Diego Sandoval, 17, Merced
I feel that if Obama were to be defeated, I personally would feel a little threatened being a young man of color and all, because he knows what it is like to be treated different just because of the color of your skin.
If Obama wins I would feel relieved and a little confident and positive about my future because I feel that he is a trustworthy person and he has done and helped the U.S. a lot, so I give him props.
Kalvin Saelee, 17, Merced
I don’t think just because he is black that his overall success or failure should have a huge effect on Americans of color.
Anyway, if Obama loses I think the effect it will have on young people of color is that they probably wouldn’t care too much about politics anymore.
If Obama wins then Americans of color will maybe be more engaged in politics.
Mark Skinner, 17, Merced
If Obama loses, I feel that young people would question whether there will ever be another president of color, or if this was just a one-time thing.
Obama winning would inspire many youth of color. I feel that young people would take this victory as their victory, as a chance to rise up to the challenges instead of following stereotypes that all minorities drop out school and end up with no jobs and very little income.