Young voters may play a critical role in this year’s presidential election. The youth of America want their voice to be heard and the internet has become the public sphere of choice for those who wish to discuss their political ideologies.
Social networking sites such as Facebook have been awash with political discussion and advertising in the past month or so leading up to the election. The largest demographic of users on Facebook are those between the ages of 18-24, with nearly 14 million in this age group in the United States alone.
On the sign in page for Facebook, there is a logo reminding users that today is Election Day and urging them to get out and vote. They are also featuring a running count on their home page of users who have indicated to the site that they have voted with a link to an “election page” where users who have not voted can find there polling place.
Many users have also created groups to show their support for their candidate of choice and some groups are dedicated purely for political discussion. According to the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, around 33 percent of all users of social networking sites have signed up as a “friend” of a particular candidate. These users are, for the most part, college age young adults.
Myspace is running similar Election Day promotions, where users can choose to indicate if they voted and in turn receive an “I Voted” badge to go on their personalized profile page. Like Facebook, they also give users the opportunity to find out where to vote if they have not already done so. They also have other election related content, including blogs from celebrities giving their political opinions and links to outside media sources covering the election.
YouTube, a website which allows users to post, watch and discuss videos has also been brimming with election related material. Some videos make their case for a particular candidate, others are just urging users to vote, and one even shows how to use a touch-screen voting machine, all of which could be useful to online voters. YouTube also co-sponsored a series of presidential debates along with CNN in order to further attract young voters. According to further research done by the Pew Research Center, 39 percent of voters 18-24 have watched some type of campaign-related material on websites such as YouTube.
Young voters are more politically aware because there are many pertinent issues, which will affect young voters in the future. Issues such as college affordability, the depletion of the social security system and the war in the Middle East will all drive young voters to the polls this year. The amount of people age 18 to 29 that voted in the 2004 presidential primary, which saw the largest increase in young voter turnout since 1972, increased 103 percent in the 2008 presidential primary. This is also due in part to the large availability of political information and discussion on the Internet.
Expect the polls to be flooded with young voters. They now have a voice. That voice is the Internet.