Youth voters are typically an overlooked group. It was a waste of resources to direct political dialogue at the 18- to 30-year-old demographic, who didn’t actually show up to the polls on Election Day, or so thinking went. Between 1972 and 2000, youth voter turnout dropped 16 percent, according to research conducted by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, a research organization that focuses on the political engagement of young Americans. It’s not surprising, then, that politicians had all but given up on reaching the 20-somethings.
But 2008 is different. Earlier this year, more than 6.5 million people under the age of 30 cast their votes in the primary elections and caucuses, and even more are expected to vote in November. With the numbers steadily rising (the 2004 election saw an 11 percent increase in youth voter turnout, the highest increase since 18-year-olds were granted the right to vote), the focus has shifted toward, rather than away from, young voters.
Heather Evans, a Ph.D. candidate in IU’s political science department, studies youth voting trends. She became interested after the 2004 election, and is currently writing her dissertation on the topic. “There are so many motivations behind voting, and so many reasons for why young voters weren’t turning out, such as being concerned with finding a job or finding a mate,” she says. “I wanted to find out if that was true.”
So what, exactly, is driving young voters to pay attention this time around? Many factors separate this election from others, but nothing compares to the power of the Internet and how instrumental it’s been in uniting young people. Campaign strategists for Barack Obama aptly realized this early on when they enlisted a new-media team whose main focus was to reach out to voters via the Internet. The result, a Web site called www.my.barackobama.com, allows supporters to find and create local events, and network with thousands of others from across the country who may have limited outlets for political discussion.
“For a long time, politicians have missed young voters by ignoring that they’re the online generation,” Evans said. “Obama is doing a good job of using e-mail to reach voters. Young people feel like they’re making a difference.”
The actual impact that youth voters will have on the outcome of this election remains to be seen, but these next few weeks are critical. Students campaigning for both sides will do all they can to mobilize youth voters, with each side hoping to become the edge that drives their candidate into the White House.
At the helm of campaign involvement at IU are eight students who have dedicated themselves to bringing the national election to campus as the leaders of the top political groups. Their political affiliations may be different, but they share a common goal: working to change their corner of the political world.
is a junior majoring in history from Fort Wayne, Ind. He is secretary of the IU College Republicans.
is a sophomore majoring in telecommunications from Potomac, Md. He is vice president of the IU College Democrats.
is a junior majoring in English from Goshen, Ind. He recently took a semester off to complete an internship with Obama’s campaign office in Elkhart, Ind.
is a sophomore majoring in political science from Brownsburg, Ind. He interned with the Indiana Republican Party and attended the Republican National Convention.
is a junior majoring in political science and psychology from Greenwood, Ind. She is chairwoman of the IU College Republicans.
is a senior majoring in biology from Lanesville, Ind. She is president of IU Students for Barack Obama.
is a graduate student majoring in psychology from India. He is the housing coordinator for IU Students for Barack Obama and a volunteer for Obama’s campaign office in Bloomington.
is a junior majoring in political science and history from Mishawaka, Ind. He is chairman of IU Students for John McCain.
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