Digital Campaigns Attract Young Voters

This story was written by Katelyn Polantz, The Pitt News
It's time to tune in to the next episodes of "The Apprentice," "Survivor," "The Real World," "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and ... tomorrow's Pennsylvania primary?

Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama are the bitter enemy housemates, locked in what seems like a fight to the death -- or at least until August -- in this long-running reality TV show. Republican de facto candidate Sen. John McCain is lying low until the finale, gearing up to face his rival once their race is sorted out.

But there's one character in the mix whose innocence has been overrated and whose rising star power might give the final answer in the presidential election: the young voter.

As much as this election cycle is a TV saga of its own, it's the viewers tuning in on the Internet who are turning its wheels. The Obama campaign, in particular, has capitalized on the strong tie between technology and youth.

"Young people aren't in front of the TV at noon, 6 and 11. Instead, the sound bites, bloopers, blunders are all online," said Khari Mosley, 32, the national field director of the non-partisan League of Young Voters. The league works to engage young people, particularly those from minority groups who haven't come out to vote in the past.

"Young people can follow the news cycle in the same way as before, but now it's a different medium but the same info," said Mosley.

Video clips "Obama Speech: A More Perfect Union," which shows Obama's speech from Philadelphia last month on race in America, and "CBS exposes Hillary Clinton Bosnia trip," a segment from CBS News, rank at Nos. 4 and 16, respectively, for most viewed this month on the video-sharing website YouTube.

Since Black Eyed Peas member Will.i.am released the music video version of Obama's "Yes We Can" speech in February after the New Hampshire primary, the clip on YouTube has almost 13 million hits from its four top postings.

Taking advantage of the tech trend, the Obama campaign -- which is noted for capitalizing on the candidate's rhetoric of hope and inspiring unprecedented support from a young demographic -- lured away one of Generation Y's Internet gurus.

Chris Hughes, who co-founded online hub Facebook with his Harvard roommates Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz, left the social-networking hotspot in February 2007 to work for Barack Obama's campaign as the online technology coordinator.

"Video has been one of our most valuable tools in the campaign," he said. Not only does the Obama campaign pride itself on a strong Web presence, the site has branched into a social networking site of its own, my.barackobama.com. There, users generate their own content on "how to vote, where to vote and how to get your friends involved," Hughes said.

Mikhail Pappas, field director at Pittsburgh's chapter of the League of Young Voters, which hasn't affiliated itself with a candidate, said, "This online stuff is totally grassroots, and Barack Obama has harnessed it."

The other candidates haven't focused as much on online grassroots efforts for their campaigns, and the social-networking facility at the site is a new technique in political campaigning.

Four years ago, Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean, now chairman of the Democratic National Committee, launched a fledgling website to support his campaign that set the precedent for current campaigns and online political activism. Visitors were able to schedule meetings for the campaign, donate money and take part in discussion forums through the website, all while keeping track of Dean's progress through the site's blog.

Today in the McCain camp, the 72-year-old senator's 24-year-old daughter, Meghan, keeps her own blog, cCainBlogette.com. She chronicles her experiences on the campaign trail and documents her father's days outside formalized campaign rallies and fundraisers.

The site exists separately from JohnMcCain.com, the campaign's official website.

When sent a request for an interview, handlers at McCainBlogette.com responded that Meghan and the blogettes weren't currently taking interviews. The McCain and Clinton campaigns also could not be reached.

To cover all the candidates and not just the presidential race, Facebook partnered with ABC News this year to create an application page for U.S. politics. Users can participate in debates and discussions, view news clips, videos and polls, read news reports and register to vote.

Although not all Facebook users are hooked up to the ABC News politics application, Hughes said about 30 million people use Facebook, most in their teens or 20s.

"Something like Facebook makes the whole [grassroots] process much easier. You give more support for students and young people to be engaged in Facebook for the campaign, and you can use the tools to bring other people into the game," Hughes said.

With two weeks to go until the primary election in Pennsylvania, USA Today reported that registrations for the Democratic Party in the state were up 8 percent.

The total number of Pennsylvania's registered voters is 8.32 million -- about 500,000 fewer registrations than in the 2004 presidential election -- with county officials saying they still have more registrations to count.

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, which tracks the political activism of young people ages 15 to 25, estimates an increase of 11 percent from the 2000 election to the 2004 election.

Last presidential election, CIRCLE reported 47 percent of 18-year-old to 24-year-old citizens voted. That election marked the second consecutive election that voter turnout for the demographic had risen.

New registrant Mia Taylor, a Pitt freshman, is undecided about her pick for president but plans to vote on Tuesday.

She, like so many others her age, follows the pulse of politics online.

"I don't watch the TV debates ... the info and speeches are so much more readily available online," she said. "I love it, I type -- click, click, click -- and it's all right there."
© 2008 The Pitt News via U-WIRE
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