In a presidential election filled with more than enough candidates and debates, a key element to the eventual outcome will be the participation of youth voters. While youth voters played large parts in the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, some political analysts doubt the same overall participation in the other 48 states.
Analysts are doubtful because youth voter participation has declined overall from 1972 until 2004, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. While it has increased in some years, it is overall still less than it was in 1972. The turnout of youth voters, however, is expected to increase in this election.
"Young voters are changing the dynamic of this election, and candidates are trying to respond," said Kareem Crayton, an assistant professor of law and political science.
Candidates have responded with more individual contact and by discussing issues that have become important to younger voters.
"The economy directly involves younger voters because it encompasses issues like affordable college loans," Crayton said. "The war in Iraq directly involves younger voters because many of the soldiers over there are under 30."
Media coverage has also changed, with more campaigning taking part on the Internet, including debates sponsored by YouTube and Facebook.
"The expansion of political campaigns on the Internet has in part encouraged younger people to vote this year," said Gregory Madan, a junior majoring in linguistics who voted in New Hampshire's primary.
Candidates also used online information to engage students.
"You can find out so much about a candidate simply by looking through their Web pages, or watching debates and interviews online," said Dylan Wood, a sophomore majoring in architecture who voted in New Hampshire's primary.
In addition to campaigning on Internet sites frequented by younger voters, candidates are frequenting areas where they can meet individual voters face-to-face.
"[These candidates] are specifically seeking out university campuses, high schools, and venues which are filled with students," said Samantha Kacos, a junior majoring in international relations who voted in New Hampshire's primary.
In fact, Illinois Senator Barack Obama delivered a speech at Doheny Memorial Library in October 2006 that was attended by celebrity Ben Affleck.
Organizations like "Rock the Vote" often use celebrities to encourage youth voters to make it to the polls. Justin Timberlake and Madonna have appeared in "Rock the Vote" public service announcements.
In Iowa, "celebrities descended upon the city at an unreal rate," said John Thelen, a sophomore majoring in international relations, who participated in the caucus. Both actors Scarlett Johansson and Chuck Norris made appearances in Iowa to support their respective candidates.
With all the changes to attract youth voters, however, many believe that they are more interested simply because of the circumstances of this election, which include the first viable woman and African-American candidates.
"This election is so unique, so younger people are getting involved since clearly history is being made," said Renee Radia, a sophomore majoring in music industry who caucused in Iowa.
This election also has no single clear front-runner in either party.
"This primary cycle is more visible largely because both partiers have contested elections," said USC Democrats President Timothy Fehr, a junior majoring in international relations. "I don't think the debates sponsored by YouTube or Facebook made much of a difference."
Youth voter participation tripled from 2004 in the Iowa caucus and doubled in the Nw Hampshire primary, according to CIRCLE.
Youth voters helped Obama and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee win the Iowa caucus, with 57% of youth Democratic voters caucusing for Obama and 40% of youth Republican voters caucusing for Huckabee, according to CNN.
"I think Obama's Iowa organization showed that young voters can make a significant impact on an election," said Fehr.
In Iowa and New Hampshire, many of the candidates hired youth vote coordinators to encourage youth voters to participate at the polls.
"Whether or not younger voters actually turn out will depend upon each candidate's ground campaign to really get people out of their houses and into the voting booths," said Crayton.
However, many students campaign on their own for their favorite candidate.
"Younger voters are more willing to be foot soldiers for their candidates and hold up banners and signs on the sides of roads, which is something that becomes less likely with older voters," said Crayton.
For instance, Thelen campaigned for Obama in Iowa by going door-to-door.
With all the targeted attention to youth voters, however, it is still unknown whether they will participate because so much attention has been traditionally focused on older voters.
"The voting and the polls still seem to have an old stuffiness surrounding it," said Wood. "Between the old-fashioned paper ballot and wooden box and the older folks who check you in and then oversee the ballot box, I felt a bit out of place."
However, many students still say they will vote in both the primaries and the presidential election because of the chance to effect change.
"Ultimately, younger generations will be significantly more impacted by this president than the older ones so they should care, but it seems like they still aren't coming out as strongly as they should," said Jonathan Stallsmith, a junior majoring in communication who voted in New Hampshire's primary.
© 2008 Daily Trojan via U-WIRE