- Bryce Johnson
This presidential primary season has been more dramatic than expected. It was predicted to be a short contest, with both party's nominees decided by Super Tuesday. This was to allow for a long general election period, but things don't always work as predicted.
The tight race can be attributed to the presence of young voters and malcontent with the Bush administration. Young voters between the ages of 18 and 29 have never been actively courted, because they rarely vote in the general election. This is not the case now; with the Internet, Generation Y has found its political outlet much as the baby boomers found it on the streets generations ago.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that in this election, "Young people make up a fifth of the U.S. voting age population. So far this year, more than twice as many of them voted in presidential primaries compared with the 2004 election." Sen. Barack Obama is the first candidate in recent history to focus on young voters, and other candidates have copied this tactic.
Surely you've read about, heard about or participated in the latest in social networking. Facebook is one of the most-visited Internet sites, with more than 67 million active users. MySpace has hosted its own political debates and other non-traditional Web outlets (i.e., YouTube) are getting into the political game.
So what's the big deal? Generation Y is not protesting the Iraq War at nearly the same level as boomers protested the Vietnam War because of these new technological outlets. MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and political blogs are used by Gen Y to discuss politics. No longer does one feel alone in supporting a particular candidate or cause; a quick Facebook search can find individuals with the same beliefs.
Facebook applications have increased political activity on the site. Each major candidate has an application, and if you don't like that, Facebook has a way to "friend" political leaders at the state and national levels. The applications allow Facebook members to receive updated campaign information and the candidates' stances on everything from Iraq to global warming. MySpace even has its own political network. We could expect to see politicians and their supporters using it to much greater political advantage this year.
Some problems could come from this social revolution. Passing false information on the Web has never been easier. During the 2006 midterm election, I worked on a fake George Allen MySpace page for a class. It was amazing to learn how many other fake pages there were, most trying to pass off as the real one for George Allen. Controlling information about oneself and opponents will become critical to winning this election for national and local candidates.
The YouTube debates were mocked by both sides of the political aisle. Though billed as the first user-generated debates, CNN still had the final call on questions. For a truly open debate, users must be allowed to vote on questions, with the network only pulling out questions unrelated to the issues.
This is the election in which Generation Y will make itself heard. The percentage of 18-to-29-year-old voters in Democratic primaries is already at an all-time high. Time magazine reported last month that 7 out of every 10 young people were paying attention to this presidential race, more than those paying attention to celebrity news. In the South Carolina primary, Obama received more votes from the under-30 voting bloc than all Republican candidates combined. This election will have more younger voters than at any time since 1972, when the voting age was first lowered to 18.
This is the classic chicken-egg conundrum, and Generation Y is about to prove which came first. The boomers are proud to be known as a very politically active and involved generation. The mantle is being passed, and I hope the current crop of politicians will learn this before it is too late.
You might not see me on my college campus handing out fliers, protesting or speaking on a street corner, but if you want to know more about who I am, just access my Facebook page. It contains all you need to know.
Bryce Johnson, a college senior in Colorado Springs, spends an inordinate amount of time on Facebook. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.