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Young Americans vote for Obama

Text by Marie VALLA

Latest update : 2008-11-06

Young Americans not only came out to vote in record numbers, they voted overwhelmingly - by a margin of 2-1 - for Barack Obama, indicating a renewed sense of civic awareness and readiness for "change."

Young Americans voted two to one in favour of Barack Obama in the presidential election, according to estimates. After two George W. Bush mandates, being a young Democrat is cooler than ever.

A day after Obama made history by becoming America's first black president, you could hardly get hold of a newspaper on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe. “I’m looking for one that has the picture of Obama with the crowd, the Arizona Republic or The New York Times, but I can’t find it anywhere on campus,” said George Dias, a 37-year-old sociology graduate student.

The sudden shortage of newspapers is one indicator of the enthusiasm with which young American voters followed this year’s election. Not only did they express a new civic awareness by turning out in record numbers, they also clearly expressed their preference for Obama’s message of change.

Estimates released by CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement) show that 22 million Americans, aged 18 to 29, voted in Tuesday's presidential election - an increase of at least 2.2 million compared with the 2004 election. The young voters’ turnout could be somewhere between 49.3 and 54.5 percent, an increase of one to six percentage points over CIRCLE's 2004 figures.

“We’re going to be the adults and the working class of tomorrow,” said Amy. By voting, “we make sure that the president has our best interests in mind.”

Obama, the youth favorite

Obama’s victory had been the talk of campus all day. “The difference is that people had stronger opinions this morning than before the elections,” said Mitch Ross, a 21-year-old microbiology student, reading the school paper outside the student union’s building. Those who voted for Obama felt vindicated while those who had supported Republican candidate John McCain were bitter, he explains.

Ross voted for McCain, partly because he didn’t want to pick Obama “just because he’s different from the norm.”


That’s not how the majority of young Americans voted. According to CIRCLE, they favoured Obama over McCain 66% to 32%, while the ratio is 52% to 46% overall. “This gap in presidential choice by age is unprecedented,” the CIRCLE statement said.

 “According to poll numbers, Obama and McCain were supposed to be much closer,” Brett Moser, who led voter registration drives at ASU on behalf on, the political advocacy group, said. “That’s because polls failed to reflect the youth vote.” 


Pollsters use land lines, which many young people don’t have since they use cellphones.
The technological gap

From the beginning of the campaign, the Obama camp enjoyed a technological advantage which allowed them to target the youth, said Kat Consador, a 22-year-old psychology student.

The Democrats reached out to young people through social networks such as Facebook. They also used Internet text messaging and advertised on MTV. “McCain didn’t take advantage of [the technology],” she said.

“We have good arguments,” says Wil Westholm, the Tucson-based head of the Young Republicans Arizona chapter. “But Republicans in general are behind the Democrats as far as using technology is concerned,” he acknowledged

But it wasn’t just the use of technology that ended up making the difference between the two candidates. Their ability to craft catch-phrases was key, too, says Westholm. “Obama’s message of change was a buzzword. People assigned whatever they wanted to it because it was positive.”

The Republican campaign picked up briefly after they coined the expression ‘Joe the Plumber,’ he noted. “The message was clear and identifiable.” Joe Wurzelbacher, an Ohio man looking to buy a plumbing business, came to symbolize the Republican fear of Obama’s campaign promise to spread the wealth.

Young Republicans vs. the self-entitled generation


It may not be cool to be a young Republican these days but some party enthusiasts like Meg Meisner, 24, take pride in rejecting what others would call trendy. “The challenge is to get young people to understand that to seek change is like wanting to lose weight,” she said, taunting a “self-entitled” generation which expects government to hand out everything on a silver platter without people having to work for it. “The only way to do it is not to take diet pills but to exercise and eat right.”

Meisner juggles a job as an insurance agent with her studies at nursing school. These days, she also gives a hand to her father who owns a carpentry business that badly suffered from the economic downturn.

Given the hardships that the country is gearing towards, the idea that the youth would favour a candidate’s age over his experience is still a bit puzzling to her. “When I have an issue, I go to my elders for advice, not my friends,” she said. “Obama said he went to his grandmother for advice. So why not me?”

Date created : 2008-11-06