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POLITICS-US: Election Outcome May Hinge on Youth Vote

Analysis by Mark Weisenmiller

TAMPA, Florida, Feb 13 2008 (IPS) - Voters under the age of 30 are becoming more influential in the American political process, according to recent statistics. When historians write about the 2008 Presidential election, they may very well dub it the "Year of the Youth Vote."

"The primary reasons that youths are becoming more involved in the political process is that: A, this is a much more energised generation and; B, non- partisan groups have made larger and more successful efforts in the registering of young voters," Kat Barr, Deputy Political Director for the non- partisan registration organisation Rock The Vote, told IPS.

Youth voter turnout increased in almost every state that held a caucus or primary election on "Super Tuesday" – Feb. 5 – according to the Centre for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), based at the University of Maryland.

If the youth vote trends of the primaries hold true on election day Nov. 4 then young voters may be responsible for electing the next President of the U.S.

A boom in young voter turnout occurred in Southern states, according to CIRCLE statistics. In Georgia, the youth vote turnout tripled since the 2000 elections (92,000-280,000) and, in Tennessee, figures quadrupled over the same period (35,000-140,000).

"Since 2003, we’ve registered 600,000 people to vote," said Sujatha Jahagirdar, Program Director for the Student Public Interest Research Group’s New Voters Project, commonly known by its acronym PIRG.

"When [Democratic candidate Barack] Obama won, he overwhelmingly won with the youth vote and when Hillary Clinton won, she did so by splitting the votes of the young," Jahagirdar told IPS. In Alabama – which Obama won – he had 64 percent of the youth vote, Clinton, 32 percent. Meanwhile, in delegate-rich California, Clinton recorded 51 percent of the youth vote, Obama 47 percent. Clinton won the state.

In Republican Presidential primaries, 71-year old Sen. John McCain won large shares of the youth vote. He won 34 percent of the youth vote in California, 36 percent in Massachusetts, 46 percent in New Jersey, and an impressive 51 percent in Connecticut. Before "Super Tuesday," McCain had been portrayed by some media outlets as a militaristic 19th century man stuck in the 21st century.

McCain has garnered these numbers in spite of his being the only campaign website not having a section devoted to addressing the youth vote.

In fact, numerous attempts by IPS to contact spokespersons of both the McCain and Huckabee campaigns, for comment on this story, went unanswered.

Among the four remaining candidates – Clinton, Obama, McCain, and Huckabee – Obama is the clear frontrunner because of his "message of change" said Eric Weil, Managing Partner for the Student Monitor, based in Ridgewood, New Jersey. "It’s about the finding of a job for students after graduation and he’s done the best job of the candidates so far, in talking about that."

Where 44-year old Obama travels, young people follow, according to Weil whose outfit has been doing college student market research since 1987.

They "follow" by staying in contact via the Internet. They also make good use of popular Internet social networking websites like and

With his three wins in Tuesday’s "Potomac Primary" – which included the states of Maryland and Virginia and also the District of Columbia – Obama now has more delegates than Clinton in the quest to procure the Democratic nomination.

Obama’s following even extends to the under-18 crowd. "Usually I participate in phone banks. We call residents in other states and spread the word about Obama." Joshua Ramirez, the 14-year-old co-founder of Obama Youth, told IPS. Ramirez is still too young to vote himself.

"When I am physically involved, there are a variety of things I can do. For instance, I picketed in New Hampshire and then held signs on the freeway before the Massachusetts primary, so that skiers who were leaving the slopes could see supporters while on their way back home," Ramirez said.

Emily Hawkins, director of young voter outreach for Clinton’s campaign, remains upbeat although the Clinton has had four losses to Obama in less than a week. "Our plan hasn’t changed. We continue to plan to talk with young voters and engage them in the issues," said Hawkins. "We have seen an online effort to show young voters just what Senator Clinton stands for on the issues that they care about such as global warming."

Hawkins also told IPS that Chelsea Clinton – Hillary Clinton’s daughter – "is continuing her series of talks which we call ‘Our Voice, Our Future,’ where she speaks at dinners, on college campuses, in coffeehouses and talks about what the Senator stands for." Hawkins noted that Clinton’s campaign "is going to work hard" to attract young voters in the upcoming primary states of Wisconsin, Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

"To put this [youth vote movement] in perspective, it really began here in Florida. The students who were in college in 2000, and also other youngsters, saw how important a few hundred votes were," Susan A. MacManus, a professor in the department of government and international affairs at the University of South Florida, told IPS.

MacManus explained that the confusing scenario in the 2000 Florida elections has led to the surge in the youth turn out. Officially President George W. Bush won the Presidency by 537 votes but, as various Florida county Department of Election supervisors disposed of some unclear ballots in their respective counties, that 537 figure has always been arbitrary. The exact number of votes by which Bush won the Presidency in 2000 will never be known.

MacManus said that "the nation is now following the lead of Florida… Obviously these young people today want to vote. They want change. They want action. And when you have candidates who break the usual mould such as Obama, who may become the first black male president in American history; or Hillary Clinton, who may become the first woman president in American history; well, then you have an energised base of people. That always attracts the youth vote."

It is unclear whether youth political enthusiasm will continue after Nov. 4. "It depends," offered MacManus, "on how their candidate does. If these folks’ candidate wins, then the answer is yes. If their candidate loses, you may see a slight drop off, but not much I believe, because this generation is really devoted to volunteerism and being active in local civic and political issues."

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