Monday, January 07, 2008

"Obama gets youth engaged -- and he gets them to vote"

AP via Seattle P-I:
Voters under 30 key to Iowa win--CHICAGO -- He's got social networking pages online. He visits college campuses, where enthusiastic student groups lobby hard to get their peers involved in politics.

Those are, by now, tried-and-true tactics on the presidential campaign trail. But if the results in Iowa are any indication, there is more to Barack Obama's popularity among young voters than his ability to simply reach out to them.

"Anyone can show up on MTV and say they appeal to young people. Anyone can have a Facebook page. But none of that is going to get you young people's support. They're smarter than that," says Ganesh Sitaraman, a 25-year- old law student at Harvard University, who co-edited the book "Invisible Citizens: Youth Politics After September 11."

What Obama seems to have is an "it" factor -- an unusual ability to not only engage young voters, but to get them to actually show up at the polls.

He did it when he ran for the U.S. Senate in Illinois in 2004. He did so again in Iowa on Thursday, when people under age 30 represented more than a fifth of the overall vote in that state's presidential caucuses.

Of those, nearly two-thirds said they were looking for change. And of that group, three-quarters supported Obama, according to a poll conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks.

Young voters have shown signs in recent years of wanting to upend the status quo -- under 30s were the only age group to cast the majority of their votes for Democrat John Kerry in 2004 -- but it has been awhile since a candidate has generated this kind of enthusiasm, says Molly Andolina, a political science professor at Chicago's DePaul University who tracks young voters.

Andolina believes Obama has struck a chord with young people.

"He's been able to capitalize on their yearning to believe in somebody."

At age 46, Obama is too young to be part of the Vietnam era and the old-time Washington establishment that has left so many young people disillusioned.

When endorsing Obama and Republican John McCain, college newspapers in Iowa praised both for sidestepping partisan politics.

Obama's also been praised for addressing issues important to students -- ending the war in Iraq, global warming, accessibility to medical care and making college more affordable -- although all the major Democratic candidates have offered proposals on these issues.

"Young voters feel like these are issues that will land in their laps. They are our problems to solve, not our parents," says Sujatha Jahagirdar, program director for Student PIRGs New Voters Project, which has been mobilizing young people in Iowa, New Hampshire and beyond.

She noted that Republican Mike Huckabee also has shown a willingness to respond directly to students' questions on such issues as global warming.



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