Several online venues – such as Future Majority and Campus Progress – have blogged extensively about the impressive midterm election turnout of young voters in 2006. Earlier this month, a study conducted by Harvard’s Institute of Politics confirms that the anecdotal evidence was spot on – youth voter turnout is on the upswing. In states such as Virginia and Montana, the increased numbers of young voters may very well have decided two crucial midterm Senate races. Back in 2004, youth turnout increased 12 points over the previous presidential year, to 41.8% – the highest turnout for young voters since 1972.
There is good reason to believe that this trend will continue. As youth organizations become more robust and candidates become more savvy to the youth voting bloc, 2008 could prove to be a record-setting year.
So what does this mean for the Obama campaign?
The Harvard study identified an emerging trend: open-source campaigning. Technologies such as websites, text messaging and online video have typically been used by campaign staffers to inform their supporters about upcoming events and other candidate news. This one-way communication is contrasted with the open-source approach, which invites supporters to become participants by utilizing these technologies to engage each other and the campaign.
Obama leads the pack in adopting open-source approaches. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, My.BarackObama.com is setting the standard for participant interaction on campaign websites. According to techPresident, his YouTube videos and MySpace page are by far the most popular.
In 2004, voter turnout increased despite the fact that youth were largely ignored by the presidential campaigns. According to the Harvard study, only one in five campaign managers said the youth vote was “very important.” With the increased attention paid to these voters by the Obama campaign (and by the race in general), turnout can be expected to rise even more.
The Harvard study an interesting trend regarding young voters’ beliefs toward foreign policy. According to a 2005 survey, 72% of young voters said they would rather see the United Nations, rather than the United States, take a lead in solving international crises and conflicts. A parallel survey by CBS/NYT shows the opposite preference expressed by the general voting public – 59% would like to see the U.S. take the lead.
This diplomatic and multilateral approach is in line with Obama’s foreign policy. He has demonstrated support for U.N.-based actions in the Congo and Darfur in the past, and at a recent event, he sharply criticized Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disregard for the international body.
I haven’t seen direct evidence of this yet, but I’d be willing to bet that young voters are less likely than the general voting public to criticize Obama for a perceived lack of foreign policy experience. As they are drawn to his message and his attitude, young voters might just carry Obama to the White House.