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Connecting to the power of the young voter

By   /   April 3, 2012  /   No Comments

By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — Winning the White House is a matter of thinking socially.
At least Barack Obama’s campaign taught that lesson in 2008, in what Time Magazine proclaimed “The Year of the Youth Vote.”

The nation’s young adults made a big difference in Obama’s bid for the presidency, and he reached them where they lived, so to speak: online.
Young voters, the 20-something block in particular, could make a big difference in determining which party moves into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. next January — if they don’t sit on the sidelines as they have in previous elections.
So, as Obama looks to build on his youthful base through multiple social network channels, Republicans, too, hope to tap into the social network magic.
Republican front-runners Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum seem to have taken a few pages from Obama’s social network playbook.
But they also can learn a few lessons from dark horse GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul and how this grandfather in his mid-70s has attracted young voters.
Reading the numbers
About 18 million of the 24 million votes from voters aged 18 to 29 supported Obama in 2008, which accounted for some 25 percent of his total, according to the Roper Center, an archive of political data at the University of Connecticut.
About 2 million more young Americans voted in the most recent presidential election than did in 2004, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or CIRCLE, a Tufts University in Boston organization, which tracks political involvement. At 51 percent, the election had the largest youth turnout since 1992.
This year, however, an estimated 8 million more 18- to 21-year-olds will be eligible to vote for the first time, said Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina in an interview with CNN. 

Obama in 2008 stumped heavily on college campuses and his campaign, political experts have said, took targeted the next generation through its use of social media.

The age difference between the two presidential candidates — Obama at 47 and his Republican challenger Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain, 71 — was another factor driving young voters. Many viewed McCain as out of touch with their concerns.
McCain, pundits have said, spoke in direct political language, while Obama touched on broader concepts, like hope and change, that appealed to young voters.
But keeping the young electorate engaged isn’t easy for an incumbent president, particularly one who made “change” his political message, said John McAdams, political science professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee.

“Now Obama isn’t the hope and change candidate He’s the status quo,” said McAdams. “The young voter surge in 2008 will recede quite a bit.” 

Young and liberal

Young voters tend to lean liberally on social issues, and the Democrats have carried their vote since 1992, when then-candidate Bill Clinton secured voters from 46 percent of the 18- to 24-year-old demographic. Incumbent President George H.W. Bush took 33 percent, while political outsider Ross Perot gathered 21 percent, according to the Roper Center.

“Young voters are more vulnerable to the zeitgeist, to the spirit of the age, and are more likely to be swept away with enthusiasms,” said McAdams.

A case in point is Lauren Anderson, a junior majoring in journalism at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“I was a staunch liberal for a long time in high school and early college,” said Anderson, also vice president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at University of Wisconsin-Madison, a Christian student organization. “But I’ve become disillusioned since Obama was elected. … We haven’t seen real improvement on the problems that we’ve faced when (President George W.) Bush was in office.” Anderson pointed to the escalation of violence in Afghanistan and high unemployment.

Paul people 

Enter Ron Paul. Like Perot in 1992, Paul has little chance of winning the general election, or the Republican primary for that matter. He’s at 12 percent nationally for the GOP nod, according to a recent poll by Reason-Rupe, a public opinion research project tracking attitudes about government. The survey of 468 Republicans and “Republican-leaners” was conducted March 10-20, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent.

Paul, however, like Obama, has incubated an enthusiastic core following among college students and recent grads looking for something new in a political leader. Paul’s supporters include Anderson. 

Paul’s 2012 campaign has capitalized on many of Obama’s successes from 2008 — first and foremost its grassroots organization. Youth for Ron Paul and Young Americans for Liberty, an offshoot of Students for Ron Paul, aims to engage and mobilize young voters on college campuses nationwide.

Obama’s official campaign has a Students for Obama arm. 

The other GOP candidates don’t have the same kind of active youth organizations.

Wisconsin Reporter made several attempts to contact the campaigns of for Massachusetts Gov. Romney, former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Santorum, Obama and Texas U.S. Rep. Paul, but those calls and emails went unanswered. Wisconsin Reporter did not contact Newt Gingrich. 

New media’s force

The 76-year-old Paul is an Internet heavyweight.

“Ron Paul” was the 10th most searched news query on Google in 2011, according to the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism organization.The only other political person on the list was “Osama bin Laden,” who finished seventh.

On YouTube, a search for “Ron Paul” brings up 278,000 videos. The following searches yielded these video results:

  • “Rick Santorum” with 27,800
  • “Mitt Romney” with 46,200
  • “Newt Gingrich” with 36,500
  • “Barack Obama” with 266,000
The YouTube views for the candidates’ campaign pages for 2012 are:
  • Paul at more than 10 million
  • Santorum at fewer than 3 million
  • Romney with a little more than 6 million
  • Gingrich, former U.S. House Speaker from Georgia, with a little less than 10 million views, although social network reports have disputed that number
  • Barack Obama Obama crushed all competitors with 178,432,076
Twitter followers for the GOP candidates break down with:
  • Paul at 146,000
  • Santorum at 185,000
  • Romney at 404,000
  • Gingrich at 1.4 million, although PeekYou’s PeekAnalytics, a  social audience measurement organization, has reported that only 8 percent of his followers are human, the others are spam and anonymous sources.
For comparison, Obama has more than 13 million Twitter followers.
The GOP candidates have the following “likes” on Facebook:
  • Romney with more than 1.5 million;
  • Paul with fewer than 1 million;
  • Gingrich with close to 300,000;
  • Santorum with less than 200,000.
Obama outpaces them all with more than 25 million “likes.” 

There appear to be some interesting connections between social media users and politicians.

Clickz.com, a marketing news site, found that Paul’s supporters have more in common with Obama’s supporters than the other GOP candidates:
  • People who “like” Paul or Obama also “like” “Family Guy,” an edgy cartoon series.
  • People who “like” the other GOP candidates also “like” “The Bible”, the report found.
  • Paul supporters “like” “The Office,” “The Daily Show” and Pink Floyd.
  • People who “like” the other GOP candidates also “like” Starbucks and “Small Business Saturday.”
Still, more young voters turned out in support of Obama in 2008 than for Paul, so far during his 2012 presidential primary campaign, said Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE.
The Paul campaign “has the same flavor. Different ideology and different numbers,” he said.
Paul’s stop in Madison last week perhaps testified to his pull with young voters.
A crowd estimated between 4,500 and 5,000 turned out.
While the candidate may have little chance of earning his party’s nomination, he has spurred young adults to act politically.
“The majority of people don’t vote,” he reminded the crowd. “The fact that you come out and you’re interested in this … actually the burden falls on you to do something about it.

“And just remember, you don’t have to have 51 percent; you need this irate and tireless minority willing to start brush fires in the minds of man.”