Young voters could play a significant role in the 2008 presidential election, and many candidates have taken notice, one survey said.
According to a study released last month by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, students in the millennial generation -- born between 1985 and 2005 -- are more engaged in their communities and feel responsible to become civically involved.
About 25 percent of eligible voters will be younger than 30 in 2008. They recognize the importance of being educated and involved citizens but discard much of the information available to them because of its polarizing and partisan nature.
"We know students want information -- but from sources they trust," CIRCLE director Peter Levine said during a press conference. "We also know the generation of emerging adults is more engaged than Generation X and more likely to appreciate an authentic opportunity for reasonable disclosure. Our research shows there are opportunities for candidates to connect with and motivate them to vote."
A number of emerging opportunities are now available to connect the younger generation with politics. Along with the time-tested grassroots strategies of support groups and on-campus debates, virtually every candidate has moved into the Information Age through social networking sites.
All the major candidates have accounts on Facebook.com, establishing virtual friendships around the nation. MySpace.com, which started as a way to promote local Los Angeles rock groups before developing into one of the Internet's 10 most visited Web sites, began its venture into the political realm in March with the launch of its Impact channel.
This channel features a voter registration tool, personal profiles of the candidates and a fundraising tool that allows users to donate to candidates of their choice. The channel holds monthly presidential straw polls, and on New Year's Day 2008, will sponsor a national virtual primary, open to all registered U.S. MySpace users.
"Everything we do is based on what we see our users doing and what they want more of," said Jeff Berman, senior vice president of public affairs for MySpace. "About a year and a half ago, as we saw them getting more engaged on the issues and on behalf of candidates, we took a cue from them."
Critics argue that since the online primary is open to all U.S. MySpace users, the younger, ineligible voters will skew the vote totals. However, according to data from a comScore Media Matrix, 87 percent of the nearly 70 million visitors to MySpace are 18 and older.
"Any candidate that thinks this is just music and video is missing the opportunity to reach a huge component of the voting population," Berman said.
Other candidates have taken the social networking into their own hands. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., created his own online networking site -- my.barackobama.com -- allowing his supporters to create profiles, add friends, add groups and join live discussion and fundraising.
Every major candidate is also using YouTube.com to broadcast free political advertisements to young voters. Others, like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, post regularly on a blog to keep supports updated on the day-to-day life of the campaign trail.
"That's one of the beauties of the whole phenomenon -- the opportunity to get to know a candidate in a whole different light," said John Murphy, former e-campaign director for Sen. Sam Brownback. "It's probably the most positive thing to happen to democracy in the last 100 years."
Many factors have contributed to the millennial generation's interest in civic duty. Some say the national state of affairs has contributed to the increased attention.
"Te fact that we have an onging war and it's been nearly five years now," said John Fliter, associate professor in political science at Kansas State University. "A lot of these voters have grown up with the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus there's a lot going on in government -- scandals, corruption, whether we're being told the truth -- and I think people are a little more concerned and following politics more closely because of it."
Though there has been exponentially more pre-election coverage and campaigning directed at the younger generation, there is no guarantee it will result in increased voter turnout.
"The potential for the youth vote impact is there," Fliter said. "Whether or not that will play out in 2008 remains to be seen."
© 2007 Kansas State Collegian via U-WIRE