WASHINGTON – Myra King, who coordinated Students for Barack Obama at Loyola University Chicago, put in long hours registering voters and canvassing neighborhoods as part of a nationwide campaign that targeted younger voters, drew overwhelming support and now offers potential for a new engagement with American youths.
Now it’s transition time for organizers who descended on college campuses this fall in an effort to convince their peers that elections are hip. As their candidate prepares to take office, they are attempting to pivot from pushing voters to the polls to pressing for legislation. Their challenge: keeping the attention of an under-30 crowd of motivated voters into the next semester and beyond.
Obama captured 66 percent of the vote among those under 30, exit polling showed — an overwhelming majority. Only 31 percent voted for Sen. John McCain.
The Obama transition team already has moved to capitalize on this enormous youth base: webcasting the candidate’s weekly addresses on YouTube, communicating its transition steps on a post-election Web site, Change.gov, and reaching out by e-mail to many of the campaign’s 3 million donors.
The team also has taken advantage of booming social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, in reaching out to younger voters in their own element.
“I really enjoyed that during the campaign… there were constant e-mails about what we can do,” said King, 19. “The Internet and Facebook is the way to keep in touch with our generation.”
Experts say factors that contributed to increased youth turnout at the polls will be key to continuing this engagement as the election season fades into governance.
“Obama forged a much different relationship with young voters than (Sen. John) Kerry did” in the 2004 campaign, said Scott Keeter, the Pew Research Center’s director of survey research. “In terms of a separate force created from the grass roots, the machinery for that is in place in a way that I don’t think we’ve ever seen before.”
One challenge in the new administration’s effort to maintain its connection with younger voters: how well it lives up to its promises, Keeter says. Exit polls show that younger voters are eager for change on a variety of fronts – health care, college costs and economic issues.
“We hope the lesson of this election is that when you pay attention to young people, they pay attention to you,” said Sujatha Jahagirdar of the New Voters Project.
Networking technology also could help keep younger voters interested in a particular subject as legislation moves through Capitol Hill, and possibly involve them in lobbying for their causes.
Sites such as YouTube also can help the Obama administration reach out to tech-savvy youth. Obama’s transition team posted his first Saturday radio address on the site, where it was viewed more than 800,000 times in three days. The transition team’s YouTube Channel, ChangeDotGov, already features 11 videos.
Change.gov not only provides information about service opportunities, but it also asks those interested in participating to submit contact information to the incoming administration.
Volunteer work can translate into involvement in bigger policy issues, said Sujatha Jahagirdar of the New Voters Project. “They get exposed to some of the more systemic problems and very quickly move towards the idea that you need policy change. They start asking some of the deeper questions.”