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INK_BLAST | THE YOUNG ROCKED THE PRESIDENTIAL VOTE

INK_BLAST | THE YOUNG ROCKED THE PRESIDENTIAL VOTE

By Juleyka Lantigua
Young_voter Barack Obama was carried to the White House on millions of young shoulders, like an excited fan body surfing at a rock concert.

Polls estimate that 68 percent of those between 18 and 29 voted for Obama. More millenials, as they are called, voted in this election than in any other since 1972 — about 24 million, according to most sources.

The youth voting avalanche started early on, with primary voter turnout reaching historical levels in many states. In some cases, the number of 18-29-year-olds voting in primaries doubled, tripled and quadrupled from 2004 levels, claiming a significant chunk of the electorate. Some key states were California (14 percent), Georgia (14 percent), Michigan (15 percent), Iowa (18 percent) and Indiana (17 percent).

Overall, youth turnout falls between 49.3 and 54.5 percent, translating into 19 percent more young people voting this year than in 2004, according to John Della Volpe at the Harvard Institute of Politics. “It looks like the highest turnout among young people we’ve ever had,” Volpe has concluded.

Why did this election energize so many young people, and how did the candidates reach them in the millions? The answer is two-fold. First, both candidates realized that they had to bring the campaign to young people. Second, they had to do it in a way that seamlessly incorporated politics into young voters’ lives. Enter technology in all its marvelous forms. Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, Digg, LinkedIn, BlackPlanet, MiGente, AsianAve. These became the true battlegrounds for both campaigns. 

The campaigning became about giving young voters a chance to own part of the movement by letting them choose how to participate, how to get their friends to join and how to express their own individuality within a larger collective whose aim was to win the White House. It was important to make it personal.

On election night, and in typical fashion since the start of his campaign, Obama sent a message to his loyal followers as he was headed to address the throngs gathered in Grant Park in Chicago. “I want to thank all of you who gave your time, talent, and passion to this campaign…But I want to be very clear about one thing…All of this happened because of you. Thank you.”

The Obama campaign broke new ground and set a high bar when it comes to innovation in reaching new voters. Frequent emails, text messages, postings on social networking sites and even embedded ads in videogames resulted in an expansive following of millions who all felt Barack was having an on-going personal conversation with each of them. As I write this, his Facebook profile lists 3,054,401 supporters and 526,07 personal wall posts from well wishers.

The moral of the story seems to be that young people do want to participate in the political process. We just have to talk to them in their own language using the tools they use to stay connected to their friends.

"Juleyka Lantigua is a journalist and editor whose work appears in national newspapers and magazines. For more info visit: www.juleykalantigua.com."

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