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Growing Youth Turnout is Good News for Dems
Published on Thursday, November 9, 2006 by the San Francisco Chronicle
Growing Youth Turnout is Good News for Dems
Phone calls, handshakes, even text messages encouraged those under 30 to go to polls
by Joe Garofoli

Two million more young people voted Tuesday than in the 2002 midterm elections -- but not because of trendy new campaigning tactics like uploading videos on YouTube or posting candidates' profiles on MySpace. Instead, 18-to-29-year-olds were compelled to vote because of one of the oldest media tactics: Somebody asked them, often in person.

Lisa Hartley, 21, a senior at UC Berkeley, finishes voting Tuesday at a polling place in the student union building on campus. (Chronicle photo by Katy Raddatz)
Of course, many were angry with the direction President Bush has taken the country and wanted change, according to a bipartisan exit poll from a youth voter organization. Put the two factors together -- and add the growing influence of new media tools -- and some analysts say a generation of young voters is solidifying into a Democratic voting bloc.

"The 2006 elections show that Republican campaigns must mobilize their base of young voters to win," said GOP pollster Ed Goeas, who conducted the poll of 500 18-to-29-year-olds with Democratic pollster Celinda Lake for Young Voter Strategies in Washington, D.C. The nonpartisan organization is a project of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University.

Tuesday "proved that young voters can and will be a force in elections," Goeas said. "Of the 28 seats in the House of Representatives that changed hands so far, 22 were won by less than 2 percent of the vote, 18 by 5,000 or less votes, and 4 by less than 1,000 votes."

A key factor in wooing these 42 million people: campaigns that reached out and talked to them. Forty-six percent of the young people in the survey said they were contacted by a candidate or a campaign.

Of those contacted, 28 percent said they received a phone call, and 22 percent got an in-person visit. Only 3 percent received a text message on their cell phone, and 7 percent were contacted through a social networking site like MySpace or Facebook.

"Reaching young people is not rocket science," said Dave Rosenfeld, organizing director of the nonpartisan New Voters Project, which registered 75,000 voters and ran outreach programs on 80 college campuses in 15 states.

Voter turnout increased dramatically Tuesday, Rosenfeld said, in precincts with the large college-student populations his project targeted.

"Campaigns are learning that they ignore youth at their own peril," Rosenfeld said.

More peril could await Republicans if they don't reach more young voters soon. According to CNN exit polls, 60 percent of voters under 30 cast ballots for Democrats. Seventy-eight percent of young people who vote for the same party in three elections in a row are likely to remain a member of that party through adulthood, said pollster Goeas.

"We lost (the youth vote) in 2004 by 11 percent," Goeas said of Republicans. Now, with that number doubling this year, according to early exit polls, Goeas worried that a generation of the electorate is growing up as reliable Democrats.

According to the bipartisan Goeas-Lake exit polls, 40 percent of young voters said they identify with Democrats, 30 percent with Republicans and 23 percent with independents. However, half reported that they voted for Democrats, and 35 percent said they cast ballots for Republicans.

Despite Tuesday's swing, Democrats shouldn't take young people for granted, said Molly Moon Neitzel, executive director of Music for America in San Francisco. The organization connected with 3 million young voters this election cycle through MySpace, text messaging and its volunteers, who encouraged voting at the 1,000 concerts it sponsors annually.

"If they (Democrats) don't do something with the power we gave them last night, we won't vote for them in 2008," Neitzel said Wednesday. "The jury is still out on Democrats."

Forty-three percent of young people responding to the Young Voter Strategies poll said the most important issue to them when deciding whom to vote for was the war in Iraq. They wanted Congress to address education, the expense of college and the economy. Sixty percent had an unfavorable impression of President Bush.

"The main thing people wanted was change," said Kathleen Barr with Young Voter Strategies.

But while Music for America sent out 30,000 text messages Monday to remind young people of the election and point them to their polling places, Neitzel and others said the jury also is still out on the power of new media techniques that surfaced in this campaign.

"The 2006 election was an experimental one for new media," said Peter Leyden, director of the New Politics Institute, a liberal San Francisco think tank that focuses on the intersection of new media tools and politics. "But even if it wasn't fully integrated into campaigns, what things like YouTube did was energize and excite young people about politics."

©2006 San Francisco Chronicle


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