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Turnout Increasing Among Young College Voters

This story was written by Samuel Rubenfeld , The Chronicle

Robb Friedlander, 18, from Overland Park, Kansas, is a freshman with a mission: elect Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) as the nation's 44th president.Friedlander co-started "Hofstra for Obama," a student campaign group, along with senior Sid Nathan, 22, and the group has canvassed for Obama in Pennsylvania, where they helped in get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts in Philadelphia. The group has also phone-banked for Obama during the Ohio and Texas primaries."He really does inspire college-age students to believe that we can change something," Friedlander said.Coming from a political family, Friedlander is part of a growing number of young voters turning out in the 2008 presidential election cycle, which has featured record turnouts in many of the primary contests, especially the Democratic contests.Getting much of the attention within these record turnouts are new voters, especially young voters, who are increasingly relevant to the campaigns. More than 3 million people under the age of 30 voted in the 44 contests on Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, according to analysis from The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE), based in the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy.Of those 3 million, more than 2 million voted in Democratic contests, and more than 900,000 voted in the Republican contests.On Super Tuesday, young voters made up as much as 16 percent of the total turnout in one state, and in another had their own turnout rate of 25 percent, according to the CIRCLE analysis.Younger voters have trended towards Obama, according to polling data and exit polls from primaries. In Tuesday's Indiana primary, 61 percent of voters 18 to 29 years old chose Obama, with only 39 percent voting for Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.), according to a CNN exit poll.Republican young voters were split between Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and Gov. Mike Huckabee (Ark.) before he was the presumptive nominee. On Super Tuesday, according to the CIRCLE analysis of exit polls, Huckabee won six of 14 states holding Republican contests, while McCain won five. Gov. Mitt Romney (Mass.) won the other three."Young people are going to vote for the candidate who engages them," said Chrissy Faessen, the communications director for Rock The Vote, a non-partisan group dedicated to youth activism. The candidates have attempted to reach young voters by going to high schools and college campuses to discuss issues that matter to younger people, Faessen added.A Harvard Institute of Politics poll released April 24 found that the economy is the largest issue to young voters, with 30 percent of young people saying it concerns them most. Friedlander said there is not one issue that matters to him more than any other, but rather a "leadership style" that he finds most important."I desire a president who works with Congress in bipartisan ways," he said. "I'm sick of Congress being divided 50-50 and things not getting done."Neither of the Democratic presidential campaigns -- Obama or Clinton -- returned requests for comment. The McCain campaign said there was no one available for comment at press time.Rosanna Perotti, a professor of political science, attributes the increase in young voters coming to the polls to the introduction of politics to the Internet. "It has brought politics to an arena where young people are comfortable," she said."Obama appears to be so sincere and so idealistic," Perotti added. "He's a natural target for youth support."But the increase in youth turnout this election cycle is not a complete anomaly: in a letter to the editor in the April 5 Washington Post, Heather Smith, the executive director of Rock The Vote, asserted that turnout of younger voters increased by 4.3 million in 2004 and by 2 million in 2006, a mid-term election year.And the youth turnout has not been distributed equally by education level: a CIRCLE study released in late arch analyzing youth voting patterns on Super Tuesday found that despite half of college-age Americans (between the ages of 18 and 29) not enrolling in college, 79 percent of those who voted were college-educated."The overall rise in young Americans voting this primary season has been remarkable, but it's disproportionately well-educated young people," said CIRCLE Director Peter Levine in a statement announcing the findings."It is certainly a concern," said Faessen. "We are looking at how to motivate voters who are not in college."Rock The Vote announced a partnership with AT&T last December to engage younger voters in the political process by creating an opt-in database for text message political updates, reminders to vote and other features, such as celebrity ringtones, student reports and text-polling. They also have a goal of registering 2 million new voters for this election cycle, and 575,000 young voters have downloaded a voter registration form, Faessen said.Young voters are increasingly using online social networks to collect and share political information, the Harvard poll found. Eighty-seven percent of college students have access to, and 37 percent of them use it to promote a candidate or issue, the poll found."Facebook and Myspace are just other opportunities to connect with the candidates where you are part of the movement," Faessen said. "It's incredibly powerful."Much has been made over whether, due to the prolonged primary battle between Obama and Clinton, supporters of either candidate would vote for McCain instead of the Democrat should their candidate not get the nomination.The question has crossed the mind of Friedlander as well.He said he would be hard-pressed to support Clinton, but thought Obama supporters overall would come around to unify the party. "Will Obama supporters support Clinton if she gets the nomination? Yes," he said. "Will I vote for her? Most likely. Will I campaign for her? No."