A new era for political support: Youth and Internet politics

Derek Thurber

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The 2008 election, still more than a year away, has already become one of the most televised presidential campaigns. The main targets for this election have been Democratic hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. One of the ways in which this campaign has reached out to the people: especially people in their late teens and early 20s: is through the Internet.

This new wave of Internet support for political campaigns is fairly new. Howard Dean began the trend by raising $50 million for his presidential election campaign over the Internet in 2004. John Kerry also raised significant funds in his 2004 election campaign.

Until this election, though, the Internet has not been used to gather support and promote the campaign for political election reasons. The targets of these Internet campaigns are the younger generation: our generation: which has been historically very negligent about voting.

In the 2004 election the U.S. Census Bureau reported that only 47 percent of the population between the ages 18 and 24, who are registered to vote, voted. There is also a big difference in the number of registered voters. For citizens over 55 years old 79 percent were registered to vote in 2004. This is compared to only 58 percent of citizens in the ages 18-24.

For these reasons the candidates in the 2008 elections have decided to move to the Internet for their source to the younger generation. All of the major candidates have put their names out to Facebook, Myspace and Bebo.

These sites are the infamous domains of college students who wish to do anything from make new friends, to plan their next meeting time for an activity, or now to support their favorite candidate in the 2008 election. There has been a large amount of enthusiasm surrounding the political campaign through online methods in the younger generation in this election.

This universal medium of college-age students has created a method for the younger generation to show their support for certain candidates. The numbers are surprisingly different from the national polls.

On Facebook, there are 365,705 members of the “Barack Obama (One Million Strong for Barack)” group, whereas there are only 6,691 members of the “Hillary Clinton for President: One Million STRONG” group.

These numbers are in stark contrast to the national polls, which state that as of Sept. 16 Clinton is winning with 43 percent of the electorate with Obama at only 22 percent.

The campaigns online have not been free of smearing. In fact the largest group currently on Facebook is the “Stop Hillary Clinton: (One Million Strong AGAINST Hillary Clinton)” group at 438,838 members.

Myspace has a similar distribution of support among the Democratic hopefuls in 2008. On Myspace, Obama has around 161,000 supporters compared to Hillary’s 41,000 supporters. The gap is not as wide, but Obama is still the clear victor in this situation.

The wider implication of these numbers is still not known. There has never been an election in which the Internet has played a significant role until now. There have been speculations that the Internet is causing more activity politically among the younger generation. If this is true it could change the way national polls are conducted and the leanings of the general populous.

It can be statistically proven that a majority of the country are registered Democratic but that more Republicans vote in national elections. Possibly, since the younger generation is a major stronghold for Democrats, the Internet will change the way this country votes.

No matter what, the affect the Internet has on the youth will be interesting to see as the 2008 presidential election draws nearer.

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