When I arrived at the polls yesterday morning, I was shocked by the massive crowd that had already assembled. As I took my place in line I was immediately swept up by the party atmosphere; the music, the shouting, the excitement…and the kids. For a split second I thought I was in a line for American Idol auditions or Hanna Montana tickets. Surely, these college students did not drag themselves out of bed at 7:45 in the morning to vote!
But, in fact, what I witnessed was seen across the country in nearly all 22 primaries held yesterday.
So why the surge in younger voters? Some could argue the issues drove kids to the polls yesterday. An unpopular war, for example, is a great motivator. But, then again, we were at war during the last election too and we didn’t see anywhere near these numbers. Since I was in for a long wait, I started chatting with the kids and was astonished to hear them talk about the candidates’ positions on major issues – in some cases they were better informed than I was.
Naturally, I wanted to know their sources. Of course, many of them referenced traditional outlets like CNN, NPR, and MTV’s Rock the Vote. But, then they started talking about new media. The more sites they named, the more I wondered how much of an impact social networking, viral marketing and blogs had to do with this re-energizing of the youth vote.
Technorati reports there are currently 542,343 blogs covering U.S. politics with more than 15,000 subscribers each. Likewise, a Google Blog Search for “U.S. politics” yields a list of 858,482 blogs and that number excludes those not linked to Google’s search engine.
But is it just blogging that brought kids to the polls?
Declare Yourself, a non-partisan youth voting initiative encompassing everything from viral videos, podcasts, text alerts and surveys to traditional on-campus visits, registered more than 250,000 voters for the 2008 campaign. The site also features links to social networks such as Facebook and MySpace.
And, speaking of social networking, Facebook introduced an application (co-sponsored with ABC News) where users have access to up-to-date political news, polls and video — a full-media RSS feed, if you will. More than one million Facebook users added the application to their profile, and more than 300,000 have participated in at least one online debate group, according to a news release from Facebook.
Kids are also taking it upon themselves to make their voices heard with user-initiated Facebook groups started for each candidate, the largest being “One Million Strong For Obama,” with more than 445,000 members. Not to be outdone, MySpace launched MySpace Impact, a Web site featuring links to candidates’ profiles, as well as polling and registration information. It also includes featured blog posts from its users and boasts more than 334,761 members.
MTV – always a staple in youth voter registration – launched think.mtv.com which enlisted 23 amateur journalists to cover primary results with podcasts and blogs sent from their mobile phones. I love the genuine viewer-to-brand interaction this initiative creates and clearly, I’m not alone with nearly a million new voters registered through the site.
The Republican party is not without their own online intiatives. Mike Huckabee has tapped into youth culture with the popular Christian Web site, The Rebelution from which Huckabee enlisted The Harris Brothers who started Huck’s Army, to organize grassroots efforts for Huckabee’s campaign resulting in 100,000 members.
The result: Under-30 voter turnout yesterday was up 42 percent over the primaries of 2004, according to the AP. And, granted, it’s not scientific, but my little straw poll of the kids waiting in line with me yesterday all said they made their decisions based on what they found online.
So, once again, if you want to connect with the youth market – whether you’re selling soda, games, movies, toys, or freedom – you cannot afford to ignore new media.