Obama offers hope to disillusioned US youth

Martha Irvine

Martha Irvine

CHICAGO - Barack Obama has social networking pages online. He visits college campuses, where enthusiastic student groups lobby hard to get their peers involved in politics.

These are, by now, tried-and-true tactics on the US presidential campaign trail. But if his win in Iowa's first-in-the-US statewide presidential contest is any indication, there is more to Obama's popularity among young voters than his ability to simply reach out to them.

"Anyone can show up on MTV and say they appeal to young people.

"Anyone can have a Facebook page. But none of that is going to get you young people's support. They're smarter than that," said Ganesh Sitaraman, a 25-year-old law student at Harvard University, who co-edited the book Invisible Citizens: Youth Politics After September 11.

What Obama seems to have is an unusual ability to not only engage young voters, but to get them to show up at the polls.

He did it when he ran for the US senate in Illinois in 2004. He did so again in Iowa last week, when people under 30 years of age represented more than a fifth of the overall vote in that state's presidential caucuses.

Of those, nearly two-thirds said they were looking for change. And of that group, three-quarters supported Obama, according to a poll conducted for the Associated Press and the television networks.

Young voters have shown signs in recent years of wanting to upend the status quo - under- 30s were the only age group to cast the majority of their votes for Democrat John Kerry in 2004 - but it has been a while since a candidate has generated this kind of enthusiasm, said Molly Andolina, a professor at Chicago's DePaul University.

She told the story of a student who showed her phrases he had written down from Obama's recent victory speech in Iowa.

"All of them had to do with hope," said Andolina, who believes Obama has struck a chord with young people.

At 46, Obama is closer to them - too young to be part of the Vietnam era and the old-time Washington establishment that has left many disillusioned.

When endorsing Obama and Republican John McCain, college papers in Iowa praised both for sidestepping partisan politics.

"Obama grasps the bigger picture," said the endorsement in the Iowa State Daily. "He doesn't seem to be entrenched in a system that only offers pessimism."

He has also been praised for addressing issues that are important to students - ending the war in Iraq; global warming; accessibility to healthcare and making college more affordable.

"Young voters feel these issues will land on their laps. They are our problems to solve," said Sujatha Jahagirdar, of New Voters Project.

She noted that Republican Mike Huckabee has also shown a willingness to respond directly to students' questions.

It remains to be seen whether that support will equate to votes in New Hampshire today for either candidate. - Sapa-AP

l Taxi 2.com returns next week.