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Will the Youth Vote Actually Turn Out? « The Washington Independent

It’s the quadrennial question. Every presidential election cycle, journalists, pundits and party officials speculate about whether the "youth vote" will turn out and, if so, how it can possibly effect the election. And every election cycle, young voters go to the polls in uninspired numbers. However, as The Trail reports, a pair of new studies confirm that young voters have been engaged this year, turning out in record numbers for the primaries. According to a study released Friday by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), more than 6.5 million voters under the age of 30 participated in primaries or caucuses this year — nearly doubling the rate of the 2000 primary season. According to the study, 2008 marked the first time since 18-year-olds were granted the right to vote in 1971 that the percentage of youth participation has increased in three consecutive elections.

Not surprisingly, this has been in large part due to the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama. As a story in the Politico notes, Obama has been innovative in finding ways to interact with young voters in their own terms, while Sen. John McCain has been slower to embrace new technology as a means for tapping into the youth vote.

"In terms of the usage of new media, there’s definitely a dramatic difference between how McCain and Obama are operating," said Ian Rowe, vice president for strategic partnerships and public affairs at MTV, who worked in the Bush White House. "Within barackobama.com he has the same set of tools you use in Facebook or MySpace or YouTube. The age gap inherently creates more of an affinity with the younger generation [for Obama]. But Obama’s general approach is in tune with reaching young people where they are"…

Obama has also built a formidable network of online supporters and activists. As of Tuesday, his my.barackobama.com social networking site had 926,000 members, and he had 946,568 Facebook supporters.

McCain, by contrast, had 141,183 Facebook supporters, and his McCain Space online sign-up contains the dispiriting sentence fragment: "Benefits of joining Team McCain include:" — with nothing following. McCain spokesman Joseph Pounder said only that they have "tens of thousands of members," on McCain Space.

The other study, from the Pew Internet & American Life Project illustrated how the Internet is reshaping how Americans participate in politics. Pew Notes:

A record-breaking 46% of Americans have used the Internet, email or cell phone text messaging to get news about the campaign, share their views and mobilize others. And Barack Obama’s backers have an edge in the online political environment.

Furthermore, three online activities have become especially prominent as the presidential primary campaigns have progressed: First, 35% of Americans say they have watched online political videos–a figure that nearly triples the reading the Pew Internet Project got in the 2004 race.

Second, 10% say they have used social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace to gather information or become involved. This is particularly popular with younger voters: Two-thirds of Internet users under the age of 30 have a social networking profile, and half of these use social networking sites to get or share information about politics or the campaigns.

The CIRCLE study found Obama was the favorite of Democratic youth voters — winning 60 percent of their votes, compared to 38 percent for Sen. Hillary Clinton, while young Republicans were much more split, with McCain receiving 34 percent to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s 31 percent. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney received 25 percent of the Republican youth vote.

Perhaps most interesting, the CIRCLE study also found that in several key swing states, the rate of youth participation has skyrocketed. In New Hampshire, where McCain has hosted more than 100 town hall meetings, youth participation this year has jumped 15 percentage points — to 43 percent — over 2000. In Missouri — which has voted for the winner in 25 of the last 26 general elections — the percentage of young voters who participated in the primary tripled over 2000.

The question remains whether Obama can sustain the interest of young voters and get them to turn out in November. If he can, this data suggests McCain may be facing even more of an uphill battle than previously thought.

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