Study: Youth vote will play key role

His favorite movies include “The Godfather” I and II, and he enjoys watching “SportsCenter,” playing basketball and listening to the jazz sounds of Miles Davis.

Yes, Democrat Barack Obama, like the other presidential candidates, has a Facebook profile. He, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain all have photo albums, wall posts and a detailed profile.

In this year’s presidential election, candidates are reaching out to young people in ways they never have before. Obama, Clinton and McCain are trying to appeal to young voters through popular youth-dominated networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and YouTube.

And it is all for good reason. According to a November 2007 survey by the Harvard University Institute of Politics, America’s 18- to 24-year-olds are following politics more than ever, voter turnout is increasing and young people are expected to make a difference in the 2008 presidential campaign.

The Harvard study said 41 percent of young adults surveyed indicated they would “definitely be voting” in a primary or caucus and 61 percent said they would “definitely be voting” in the 2008 general election.

Exit polls and turnout data from primaries nationwide show the Harvard survey’s predictions have been accurate so far. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, known as CIRCLE, has found that youth voter turnout has increased dramatically in primary contests nationwide. CIRCLE is a nonpartisan organization that studies youth involvement in politics.

The Democratic Lean

According to CIRCLE, 18- to 29-year-olds made up 17 percent of the overall vote in the 2008 Texas primary. This percentage represents an increase from 6 percent in the 2000 election. CIRCLE estimated that more than 171,000 young people participated in the Republican primary and 449,000 in the Democratic primary.

The lopsided turnout in Texas can be explained by the fact that the Republican race was over by the time Texans voted, said Adam Schiffer, assistant professor of political science. He said that although it remains highly unlikely that the Democratic nominee will win Texas, the Texas Democratic Party seems to be resurging after years of dormancy.

Schiffer said 18- to 29-year-olds are the most Democratic-leaning voters in the electorate.

“They have come of age politically during an unpopular Republican administration, so it’s natural that they would gravitate to the opposition party,” he said. “The good news for Democrats is that most voters stick with their party ID for the rest of their lives, so this generation is likely to remain Democratic.”

The Issues

Both parties are devoting attention to issues young voters say they are concerned about.

According to a poll by Rock the Vote, young voters ranked issues of concern in the following level of importance: the economy (17 percent), the war in Iraq (12 percent), health care (11 percent) and college affordability (10 percent). Rock the Vote is a nationwide nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that aims to increase youth involvement in the political process.

Democrats Obama and Clinton both oppose the war in Iraq and advocate immediately beginning the withdrawal of troops, according to the candidates’ Web sites. Republican candidate John McCain has said more troops are needed in Iraq to ensure long-term success.

Brittney Dubose, a sophomore radio-TV-film major, said she thinks young people are getting involved in the election because the candidates are addressing important issues and are making more of an attempt to relate to the young demographic.

“What happens to us depends on the kinds of decisions they make,” she said.

The Final Race

Melanie Harris, a self-proclaimed “Hillary supporter from the beginning,” said she has been surprised and encouraged by the reaction of traditionally conservative TCU students to the Clinton and Obama campaigns. Harris, an alumna, said that although Texas was crucial in the March 4 Democratic primary, she does not think TCU students will vote Democratic in the general election.

“With so many students coming from conservative backgrounds who haven’t really taken the time to develop their own party ID, most students will probably vote for McCain,” she said.

Olivia Chilton, TCU College Republicans state elections chair, agreed.

“Come November, TCU students will be for McCain,” she said.

However, according to a nonpartisan blog, techpresident.com, which tracks the effect the presidential candidates are having online, Obama is currently in the lead in the online social-networking campaign. Obama, followed by Clinton and McCain, has the highest recorded number of YouTube viewings, MySpace friends and Facebook supporters.

It is too early to tell whether online support will translate into actual votes, Schiffer said. However, Obama has benefited the most from his superior online organization, he said.

“It’s likely that the early enthusiasm for him that spread across social-networking sites helped generate the ‘buzz’ that pushed him to the front of the Democratic pack, despite his relative inexperience,” Schiffer said.

“He (Obama) has used the Internet not only to break all fundraising records but to rewrite the rules for how to raise money in a campaign,” Schiffer said. “His emphasis on bottom-up campaigning, rather than relying on a small number of wealthy donors, has given him a wide base of enthusiastic support that has, at least in most states, translated into increased turnout.”