In the news

The Colorado Daily News
Evan Sandsmark

Political pundits are beginning (or perhaps continuing) to sound like a broken record, claiming, as with most elections in recent memory, that the 2008 presidential election will finally be the year of the youth vote.

However, this year they're actually right, or so the numbers suggest.

Consisting of nearly 50 million potential voters, or slightly less than 25 percent of the electorate, 18-31 year-olds can significantly influence the 2008 election if they turn out in large numbers, a likely possibility given youth voters' tremendous showing on Super Tuesday.

In 20 of the 24 states that held primaries or caucuses this past Tuesday, youth voting rates at least doubled from 2000 and 2004 figures, according to Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. In Georgia, Missouri, and Oklahoma, all states won by Barack Obama, youth voting rates tripled, and in Tennessee, they quadrupled.

Increases in youth voting have affected the Republican candidates as well. Mike Huckabee has benefited from the youth vote substantially, winning primaries in Georgia, Tennessee, and Missouri largely because of support from high percentages of young voters in those states.

“There are a lot of issues facing the American people right now, and a lot of young people are interested in trying to find solutions to those issues,” said Crisanta Duran, the president of the Colorado Young Democrats and an attorney for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union of Colorado.

“It's inspiring them to get out and vote,” she continued.

Even though trends indicate an increase in youth voting over the past 8 years, 2008 figures have shattered old records.

Although official youth voting numbers have not been released for Tuesday's caucus, young voters compose a sizable portion of Colorado's electorate. According to 2006 statistics from Colorado's Public Interest Research Group (CoPIRG), there are 303,000 college students and 637,000 eligible voters under 30 in Colorado, forming a youth voting bloc that undoubtedly helped propel Obama to a convincing win over Hillary in Colorado's Super Tuesday caucus.

Obama's support among youth voters cannot be overstated. CBS News reports that Obama carried 59 percent of Democratic voters under 30, while Hillary Clinton gathered a modest 38 percent. Male youth voters supported Obama by a margin of 64 to 33 percent, and female youth voters supported Obama 53 to 45 percent, mildly eating away at Hillary's formidable base of women voters.

According to Duran, Obama's multicultural background and ethnicity, coupled with his ability to communicate effectively with youth voters, has earned him widespread support.

“He in himself symbolizes change that a lot of young people are attracted to,” she says.

The increase in youth voters has undoubtedly been influenced by the Internet's large role in this year's election as well.

Sam Dorman, the Director of Online Programs for the League of Young Voters, recognized the power of the Internet to engage youth voters and help run a faux primary on as a result.

“A month ago, when we were watching this [election], it was really hard to break through the impression that young people are unengaged. We launched it [the Facebook primary] on the day of the Iowa caucuses, and suddenly that Š narrative has changed,” Dorman said.

The Facebook primary application, which allows users to choose a candidate publically or privately and explain their reasons for doing so, has encouraged youth voters from across the country to get involved in this year's election and, more generally, the American political system.

The Facebook primary was used to “amplify the voice of young people, get young people involved, and convert online engagement to offline action,” according to Dorman. “Exciting candidates who are talking about issues that are important to young people [can be] an explosive combination.”

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