Janet Elder of the New York Times writes that history suggests it is unlikely voters under the age of 25 are going to turn out in record numbers in the 2008 presidential election.
However, look no further than the next Democratic debate cosponsored by CNN and YouTube. About 20 to 30 questions in the debate will be directly from YouTube, user-generated videos voted on by the community. The debate format provides an excellent opportunity for all voters to engage in the electoral process, but especially younger voters. They are the ones most likely to visit YouTube and upload content. Another way YouTube contributes to the election is by highlighting a specific candidate each week, currently Barack Obama. Above every video is a banner with a link to Obama’s channel, which features his uploaded videos and a brief bio. Over 100 million videos are viewed daily, providing free exposure to the candidate. It’s another way to get young voters involved in the election.
Also, the explosion of social networking sites since the last election has created a method to generate considerable enthusiasm for candidates. For instance, Facebook has a feature called News Feed which lets a person see what groups their friends have recently joined. If one person joins a “Support Y” group, a chain reaction is potentially set off where many more join the group. Although merely joining a group doesn’t indicate steadfast support for the candidate, at least it represents an interest in politics. The viral capabilities of Web 2.0 are enormous and should be harnessed by all the campaigns.
It eventually comes down to whether or not young voters will turn out on Election Day. Hopefully, enthusiasm will be large enough to elicit a large turnout, but the election is too far away to make any clearcut predictions.