Tracking the Youth Vote

We're in the ground in Ohio to find out how closely younger voters are following the elections. After visiting three schools — Ohio State University, the largest in the country; the University of Dayton and Wright State University — and talking to dozens of students, I've seen how engaged this generation is in the 2008 election.

For many students, they only recall having President Bush or Clinton in the White House and today's 18-30 year olds are intoxicated by the idea of having someone new in office — it's an election they feel they can influence.

Barack Obama started courting them early, long before Hillary Clinton and John McCain. That attention is flattering to younger voters and it plays to what come critics say is their sense of self-importance and entitlement. Obama's stylish appearance and youthful energy has captivated many of them. Numerous students acknowledge that it's trendy to be on the Obama bandwagon. One Wright State student told me, "Young people like what's new and cool, that's Barack."

That doesn't mean that John McCain or Hillary Clinton don't have their share of young supporters. While they are not as organized as the Obama volunteers, they are just as energetic.

Hillary devotees told me that their candidate is not getting a fair shake from the media (CNN and MSNBC, specifically) which they believe goes easy on Obama. Young Hillary supporters say that Obama's "hip-ness" has hurt their gal. They acknowledge that it's hard for a 60-year-old woman to be as cool as a charismatic 46-year-old man.

All seemed to share the opinion that Obama supporters are less informed on the issues. "They like him because he is eloquent," one Hillary supporter told me. "If they spent more time researching the issues, more young voters would back Hillary."

McCain supporters may have a harder sell because they say their peers tend to be more liberal. On a cold a rainy morning, we watched as a group of a dozen supporters handed out 150 flyers in less than two hours. Numerous passersby were receptive to McCain. Some liked him because they view him as more moderate, others admired his stance on Iraq. The students we talked to felt that his age — 71 — wasn't an issue.

But will they show up to vote in next week's Ohio primary?

Young voters have historically pledged that they would vote, but more often than not, they failed to show up at the polls. Remember how the Iowa caucuses turned out for Howard Dean in 2004? He brought to the state busload after busload of students but when it counted the kids didn't materialize.

This year may be different.

In primary and caucus states the number of young voters has tripled even quadrupled. If that's any indication, the youth vote is likely play an important part in electing the next president.

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