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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Barack-ing the vote: What Obama can do for youth

    Like many candidates before him, Barack Obama has been making a concerted effort to bring out the youth vote, but unlike many candidates before him, this effort has been wildly successful.

    As Time magazine reported earlier this month, young Iowa Democrats – whose participation rates were up 135 percent from 2004 – preferred him to their other options by a margin of more than four to one. Young voters ended up accounting for 17,000 of Obama’s 20,000-vote lead on John Edwards in that race, and in Saturday’s South Carolina primary, he won 70 percent of the vote in the 25-29 age group.

    Historically, young people have a reputation for being delinquent voters, making Obama’s widespread support among them all the more impressive. Presidential election turnout rates among the 18-29 age group generally hover 20 percent or more below those of the over-30 population. Predictably, turnout is even lower if you look only at 18-25-year-olds.

    Perhaps that’s got something to do with financial dependence – so long as we’ve got our parents to bail us out of our financial setbacks, which many in the 18-25 age group certainly do, we’re bound to feel a little more complacent. If the economy goes to hell in a hand basket, it’s okay – mom and dad have got our backs. Or so we think, anyway.

    But that’s not the only reason young people aren’t as eager to vote. We’re also largely ignored by politicians, the majority of whom are several decades older than us. Because most of us don’t make huge campaign contributions, or have mortgages and stocks to worry about or daily prescription cocktails to pay for, there just isn’t as much that politicians seem to think they can do for us, and, money-wise, not a whole lot we can really do for them.

    It would be a mistake, however, to dismiss young people as lacking our own ideas and concerns just because we don’t happen to be affected by the majority of things with which the politician-age population is concerned. Herein lies the secret to Barack Obama’s appeal: He doesn’t dismiss the 18-29 age group as a bunch of idealistic know-nothings. Obama’s own youth certainly doesn’t hurt, either – at 45, he’s the youngest major candidate since Bobby Kennedy. He’s young, inspiring and charmingly self-effacing, all of which qualities, which resonate with a twenty-something audience. Even the mere fact that he pays more attention to young people than any other candidate is enough to enthuse – last summer, for instance, he blew off an AARP-sponsored event to instead hold a rally with Usher.

    But is Obama really any more progressive or youth-positive than any other candidate, or is he just lucky enough to be the one with youth appeal? His image is that of the newcomer, the fresh and honest face of the future, and it’s got college students in particular flocking to him – but, if elected, would he then leave us in the dust?

    Unlikely. Though he isn’t as radical as some young Democratic voters might like to think he is, Obama is nevertheless concerned with issues that appeal strongly to young people: healthcare (we might not have prescription cocktails, but we do need coverage), the environment, presenting a friendlier face to the international community. Moreover, if young voters play the key role in getting Obama to the White House, he won’t be in a position to ignore us – and neither will future candidates.

    Obama may not be exactly what every young person wants in a candidate – in fact, he and Hillary Clinton do not differ greatly with respect to what they say, only with how and to whom they’re saying it. But that’s precisely why a young voter would be better off voting for Obama than Clinton; by putting forth a greater effort to deliver his message to the 18-29 age group, Obama is distinguishing himself as the candidate more likely to keep our interests in mind as president.

    To an extent, his image is undoubtedly a campaign tactic. But it’s a campaign tactic the other major candidates aren’t really using – save, perhaps, for the street cred Mike Huckabee and Chuck Norris are trying to drum up among young right-wingers roughly a year after the last Chuck Norris joke was made. Obama is the only candidate appearing to make a sincere effort to address the needs and hopes of America’s youngest voters. And for that, he can have my vote.

    Alyson Hill is a senior majoring in classics, German studies and history. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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