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Election 2008: The Youth Vote

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Malcom Glenn, Justin Mandel and Jason Fisher
UWIRE Youth Vote '08 Reporters
Monday, August 25, 2008; 1:00 PM

UWIRE Youth Vote '08 reporters Malcom Glenn, Justin Mandel and Jason Fisher were online live from the Democratic National Convention in Denver on Monday, Aug. 25 at 1 p.m. ET to take readers questions about the convention and how young voters could have an impact on the election.

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The transcript follows.

Glenn is a Harvard student who will be reporting at the convention. Mandel is a cameraman and a student from USC. Fisher is a recent Syracuse grad who produced a documentary about the 2006 Ohio election.

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Vernon, B.C.: Hi! I'm a 48-year-old white woman from Canada, and have submitted many answered questions to the Washington Post politics chat. However, despite my repeated submissions I have received no response to this one -- but I'll bet you will. I submit that the polls are skewed because they do not reach what I call the "ring-tone" majority. All these polls have not contacted you, the youth of America, first-time voters who are galvanized and empowered, the likes of which has not been seen for decades. Why? 'Cause they don't contact cell numbers. I feel that this could be to the detriment of the GOP, and that would be okay with me, but aren't voters getting tired of this, or does it just serve to keep the momentum and drive going?

Malcom Glenn: Hi Vernon! I think you're in part correct. I've read that cell-phone only people are disproportionately young, poor, and minority, all of which are constituencies that vote majority Democratic. Polls this early, and in a cycle with the most galvanized youth ever, are likely to be way off. As polls continue to be wrong, I think people will realize that so much attention shouldn't be paid to them.

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Lyme, Conn.: Are you finding, as some political scientists are reporting, that Millennials are far more Democratic and far more supportive of government programs than are people of other generations? The political scientists are claiming that Millennials are Democrats over Republican by a five-to-two margin, that Sept. 11 and school shootings were defining moments for this generation, and that they seek government security, including economic and safety, and that they support social security and health care programs -- as well as police and defense -- by wide margins. Do you find these sentiments expressed by your peers?

Malcom Glenn: I would agree that the so-called Millennials are largely Democratic, but I must confess that my hometown of Denver and where I go to school in Boston are far more Democratic than the country at large. The people who live around me surely fit your hypothesis, but it's difficult to know whether people across the country share the same ideology. Sept. 11 was indeed a defining moment for our generation, though I don't know if that had a direct affect on the ideology we share. I'm not sure how much living in a post-9/11 world will affect the way we vote in this cycle, but you're right, most young people are big supporters of social security and health care programs.

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washingtonpost.com: So, the basic, obvious question: In many election cycles past, the youth vote has been trumpeted as a game-changer, only to not show up at the polls in the numbers that had been anticipated. Do you expect that to change this year? If so, what makes the 2008 election different from past ones?

Jason Fisher: I think that every election cycle, candidates make an effort to reach out to the youth vote. It's obviously an important demographic and it always has immense power to potentially swing an election since most of them are voting for the first time.

I believe that this year, more than ever, the youth vote will turn out in large numbers because of Barack Obama's charisma and message of hope and change. Every four years we hear that it's the "most important election of our lifetime," but this time around it really feels like that. I get a sense that Barack Obama is a different type of candidate that we have not seen before in our lifetimes and that he will bring the youth vote out in larger numbers than ever before.

Malcom Glenn: Yes, I think Barack Obama's candidacy could really re-shape the way the youth get out. I've never been able to understand exactly why he's so attractive to young people, but the fact of the matter is that he is--and his ground game coupled with that fact bodes well for a record youth turnout, perhaps to the point where a state swings in his direction as a result.

Then again, we've said this every election cycle since I can remember and we've always been underwhelmed. But if it's going to happen any year, this is the one.

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washingtonpost.com: What are your and UWIRE's goals for your coverage of the convention? What are your career aspirations in an industry that appears to be on the decline?

Justin Mandel: Our goal is to find what our generation is doing to be apart of the 2008 Democratic Party. This involves young delegates, protests in addition to the organizations trying to court young voters. Just the few hours I've been here, I've already seen the presence of youth oriented organizations like MySpace and Rock the Vote.

Malcom Glenn: My goal during the Convention is to discover what some of the unsung voices from Denver are saying. There are 15,000 members of the media here, but if I can cover something that none of them cover -- that is, something that's hidden, unique, or off the beaten bath -- then I think it can really enrich UWIRE's readers.

As far as the industry, it's not in the decline, it's just changing, and we have to change with it. The public will always have a desire to read the news, but just in a different fashion. It's our job to discover that fashion.

Jason Fisher: Like Justin and Malcolm said, we want to provide a unique perspective on the convention and this election - one that you can't find anywhere else. Obviously our focus is on our generation - the young voters and youth movement. Personally, I plan to cover things that I'm interested in, things that I would want to watch or read about. If I'm having fun covering these events, hopefully that energy and enthusiasm will transfer over to our readers and viewers.

I disagree that this industry is on a decline. I think that there are more opportunities than ever before to be heard and to be seen. We live in the YouTube generation where anyone can become an overnight sensation in an instant.

As far as my future in this line of work, I'm still figuring out exactly what it is that I want to do. I know that I want to do something in film or television. I love on-air work in front of the camera, but I enjoy directing and various aspects of filmmaking as well. In fact, I just recently completed my first feature documentary film, "Swing State" (www.swingstate08.com). In the meantime, I'm having a great time working with UWIRE and covering the DNC and this historic election.

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washingtonpost.com: What are some issues in this election that youth voters care more about than the electorate at large? Education and climate change come to mind, but are there others?

Malcom Glenn: I think climate change and, more specifically, becoming energy independent is an issue that the media has downplayed among young voters. Many of the short-term problems don't directly affect us, but this is a problem that we will inherit, and our hope is that we will inherit the solutions as well. Knowing that the worse of the situation might not hit us for another 25-50 year is scary; some of us worry that today's leaders will just pass it off to us, and by that point, things will be much worse than they are now.

Education fits that bill to an extent, too, but that's less of an issue for many of us who near graduation and about to free ourselves of that world.

Jason Fisher: I agree with Malcolm that climate change, energy independence and the environment are extremely important to young voters - because the decisions we make today will affect OUR futures and the future of our families.

I know that a lot of my friends are worried about the current state of the economy as well. It's affecting their families now and they are worried about getting and keeping their jobs in the current market.

Obviously the Iraq war is a very important issue in this election, but I think that it's not as high on the list as perhaps it should be. Unless young voters have friends or family in the military, it's an issue that doesn't seem to immediately effect us on a day-to-day basis. If there were a draft, like back when our parents were in college, it would be a much different story.

All in all, I'm really pleased that so many young voters have issues that they are passionate about. No matter what their specific stance may be, it's just so important for us to be aware and involved.

Justin Mandel: As sappy as it might sound, I just think we're ready for change. We ready for something different, something that's not another tragedy or scandal that's been associated with this White House. But I have to agree with both of my colleagues that Iraq is probably our number 1 concern, however we secretly have a fear about the economy. I know I've heard about friends who recently graduated and were offered a job as soon as they graduated, only to be told that the company was loosing too much money and they were going to have hold off on hiring him. Outside of jobs, we're getting worried about gas and getting upset about food prices. We didn't think that McDonald's was going to be our dinning option once our College Dinning Card ran out.

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Chatham, N.J.: What's the feeling like in Denver? Are there a lot of young people there? What are they doing? And will this perceived or reported enthusiasm for Obama really translate into votes?

Justin Mandel: There's definitely a sense of excitement here, I have yet to step foot inside the convention center, but as soon as I stepped off the plane here in Denver you could feel it. A lot of the delegates were cheering at the first Obama sign they saw at Denver International. I'm sure as soon as I get to the convention Arena tonight all the excitement that's been building up that's not already present, will come out in full force.

Jason Fisher: There is an energy in the air here that you can feel. As you walk the streets of Denver, you get this buzz of excitement and enthusiasm. So many people have converged on this city - it's the capital of the political universe for the next four days. I can't believe how much I've done and seen already, and the convention hasn't even officially begun yet!

There are tons of young people getting involved and out and about around the city. I've never been to a convention before, so I don't know if this is an exceptionally high number or not, but it definitely feels like this is something different. Only time will tell if the Obama campaign will be able to carry this energy and enthusiasm over into the actual votes on election day/.

Malcom Glenn: Denver is awesome, but in the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I was born and raised here. The sheer number of people here is unbelievable -- only the Olympics or another large-scale sporting event would compare.

You can feel the buzz in the air, and I haven't even been near the Pepsi Center yet. Just walking around amongst the hotels, the restaurants and the other establishments, though, you can sense something. There are signs everywhere, volunteers all over the street willing to help people find things, and lots of Obama signs, shirts and hats.

I've been talking up this city for three years at school, and I always tell people that this is our chance to shine. It's only been one day and things really haven't gotten underway yet, but I think we're doing a pretty good job. The police have the toughest job though, dealing with protesters, but arrests have been minimal and the huge parades have been largely non-violent. Let's hope that it stays that way.

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Virginia: Do you find there is a lot of sneering down on the youth vote from the older generations? The Washington Post has reported on the elections in Washington where the young hopefuls have been snubbed by the established party officials, who basically categorized them as disrespectful upstarts.

Malcom Glenn: I don't see that a great deal, especially in regards to the Obama campaign and the people I know who have worked for it. They seem to truly understand the importance of young voters if properly utilized, and they realize that the more people they have in their camp, regardless of age, the better off they'll be in November.

Young people are more energetic, typically work longer hours, and are generally more optimistic about the future. Those are all wonderful qualities, integral qualities, to have in any major campaign, and it'd be counterintuitive to reject those traits. I think both campaigns, especially Obama's, are doing a better job of realizing that.

Jason Fisher: I haven't seen that as well. My experiences have been much the opposite. I think that the successful politicians and campaigns are the ones who reach out to young voters and get them involved. I think that the Obama campaign, in particular, is doing a terrific job of not just trying to get our generation to vote for them, but to get them involved and be an active part of the campaign as well.

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washingtonpost.com: So, the basic, obvious question: In many election cycles past, the youth vote has been trumpeted as a game-changer, only to not show up at the polls in the numbers that had been anticipated. Do you expect that to change this year? If so, what makes the 2008 election different from past ones?

Justin Mandel: Yes. Yes. Yes. I definitely think this year is a game changer, compared to years past, I feel like that the Obama campaign has dominated the Internet ever since they declared their intentions. Us students love the Internet, I can never get enough of it, and by having such a presence with social networking, e-mail etc., its like they trying to reach out to us, the Facebook addicted culture, and know many students appreciate something like that.

Jason Fisher: I think that Barack Obama is a different type of candidate - one that we've never seen before. I truly believe that he will inspire many young voters to come out on election day. I think that he is the difference between this year and other elections that have targeted young voters. It's much easier for young people to get excited and inspired by someone like Barack Obama than someone like John Kerry.

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Alexandria, Va.: In 2004 it was predicted that many of America's youth would get out and vote. It was predicted far and wide that they would have a huge say in the election of the president, and what happened? They stayed home. What does it take for the youth of today to get out and vote?

Malcom Glenn: Quite honestly, it has to go far beyond the general policies of Democrat and Republican. It takes a candidate that truly inspires the youth to really get them out there. Is Barack Obama that candidate? We'll see on November 4, but it looks more like that this election cycle than it did in any previous (at least as long as I've been alive).

As I said in another answer, young people are extremely optimistic on the whole, and a candidate who they believe shares that optimism is a candidate who will get their vote in the numbers we've been predicting for so many years.

Policies matter to us, but I think our gut matters a lot too at this age, as does an indescribable, somewhat intangible "feeling." I realize that's vague, but it's the only way we'll be able to wake up the morning after an election and finally see a correlation between our prediction and the reality.

Justin Mandel: It takes inspiration and something that doesn't sound like typical Washington jargon, something that sounds genuine and makes us not only to want to vote, but to be apart of that campaign. I think things have changed since 2004, things have gotten worse and I think we actually feel like our voice matters, especially in swing states. I have to say that I think 2006 was a big turning point, many students came out to vote in mid-term elections and tipped in the scale in some cases especially in those close races. I assisted in the 2004 effort to get young people to vote, and I think we succeeded as young voter turn out was around 21 million, the highest its ever been. This year should definitely increase numbers across the board as more students were involved in primary season than ever before and that will certainly translate into the general election.

Jason Fisher: It takes motivation, a candidate who can inspire, a message of hope and optimism, and good weather on election day! As Malcolm said, we'll see on election day if Barack Obama can deliver what he promised and preaches, but he's definitely off to a great start. I hope that the youth vote turns out - no matter who they vote for - it's just so important for our generation to have a voice. We have the power to decide this election.

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Indianapolis: Do you think Biden will taint Obama's reputation among young voters as a sincere advocate for change? It seems like idealists might have a hard time absorbing this clearly political move.

Malcom Glenn: It's difficult to tell this early, but I'm inclined to say no at this point. Young people are idealists, sure, but I think we're beginning to realize that all the promises made during a campaign are nothing without winning the office that is sought. My friends and I always say that you can't govern if you don't win.

Furthermore, a statement Obama made during their joint rally on Saturday: "Joe Biden changed Washington, but Washington didn't change him" might resonate with young voters. The fact that he is such a family man, having been sworn into the Senate by his sons' hospital bed and his daily commute to and from Wilmington, could be something that young voters associate with their own parents' devotion to them.

Then again, 35 years in the Senate is 35 years, and it's especially glaring for a candidate whose principal slogan is "Change We Can Believe In." My hunch is that Biden's "change" traits will override his "non-change" ones, though.

Justin Mandel: I agree with Malcolm, its hard to tell. I think some people will see him as the same old, while some will see him as same old Washington. But I have a friend I know who was hesitant to vote for Obama, but would very much consider it with Biden on the ticket. Many moderates seem to like him, and though his mouth can be pretty fiery, I think young voters see him as genuine.

Jason Fisher: No. Obama will carry and lead the Democratic ticket. I think that Biden can only help him in certain areas (foreign policy), but at the end of the day the choice is still between Barack Obama and John McCain. I don't see the running mates making that much of a difference in the final outcome.

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Richmond, Va.: Are you seeing a large increase in voter registration in college towns, especially in battleground states -- New Hampshire, Iowa, North Carolina, Virginia, etc.?

Justin Mandel: I'm not on the ground there now, but if I learned anything from when I was in Ohio in 2004, they will begin to ramp up when school starts. I have friends in Virginia and New Hampshire who registered over the past year, and I know they are getting excited. There is one problem of confusion with students. Many don't realize that they are allowed to register to vote in the college they go to, people don't think its as simple as it sounds (but it is!).

Jason Fisher: I'm not on a college campus anymore, but I can speak to the efforts going on here in Denver to register young voters. There are registration drives going on left and right - from the ONE campaign to Rock the Vote. Almost every event that is going on and is targeting young voters, they are tying in a voter registration drive as well.

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Philadelphia: You may get more questions from readers if you included a link to the Youth Vote page on the Post site and explained a bit about how this partnership came about, or even that it exists! According to the press release: "Blog to provide the pulse of the young voter's mindset heading into presidential election" how will that be achieved? Over and over again the biggest problem with engaging young people has been moving off of the campuses and engaging the majority of young people who are not in college. How will this blog bring in a diversity of voices and provide the pulse of the non-monolithic group of young voters?

washingtonpost.com: Youth Vote '08 Blog (washingtonpost.com)

Malcom Glenn: As is the case with the newspaper I'm a part of at school, I think the best way to be able to achieve of goal of understanding a specific portion of the community is to get people from that community to get involved in covering them.

Everyone who's involved with Youth Blog '08 (youthvote.washingtonpost.com) is a young person, and we're especially tuned in to what's going on with people like us. Even among those who share a different ideology, there are some universals among young people, and that knowledge is invaluable when reporting on them.

It's not something unique to college--I just spoke with students from a youth group here in Colorado who affirmed that in their mobilization and registration of all young people in the state. Most of the young people I've met here who have been officially involved with the Convention have been college students, but there are so many other people who I've met who are here in some unofficially capacity that are either out of college or never attended who aren't too different than the college kids. It's really quite striking, and something that you have to be down on the ground here to really experience.

Jason Fisher: I graduated from Syracuse University two years ago, so I'm definitely 100% interested and motivated in reaching out to young voters who are a few years removed from college. Our blog has contributors from all across the country - some of who are on college campuses, and others of which are out like me. I think that we'll be able to offer a wide array of coverage on how young people are getting involved in this election process.

Justin Mandel: Every campus is different. You're not going to find the same type of voters at USC as you would at Notre Dame. Each student is different and the pulse on their campus is different. The blog comes from students across the country on every different type of campus to bring a unique view that I think people rarely see.

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washingtonpost.com: Aside from changing some of their policy stances, what could the Republican Party be doing better to attract more young voters?

Malcom Glenn: Malcolm Glenn: Well, quite frankly, the policy stances are a huge difficulty. Young people tend to agree on the biggest of issues, and that agreement puts them squarely in opposition with the GOP. That's a tough hurdle to jump over, but you're right to imply that it's not the only hurdle. Since Democrats have tended to skew young, they will continue to skew young unless we see a substantial shift in the electorate, the likes of the Democrats in 1932. It's normal for people to follow that of their peers.

Also, because the people who teach young people -- professors at universities, and the universities themselves -- tend to be more liberal, it's only common that young voters will follow suit. It's up to Republicans to diversify their reach at universities, and they might be able to attract more young voters to their camp.

Justin Mandel: I think the answer is to look at California (not to be biased since I go to school there). I think Schwarzenegger did a great job of being a moderate and caring about issues that young people care about, the environment. He also is very moderate on most social issues like gay rights. I really doubt that the Republican party can become as Moderate as him, but I think a genuine shift from the Right to the Center might help.

Jason Fisher: I agree with Justin, that California is an excellent example of how the Republican party can appeal to young voters. Another example would be Mayor Michael Bloomberg in NYC. While he's an independent, many of his supporters are staunch Republicans, yet he appeals to many Democrats as well.

I think that for the Republican party to attract young voters, it starts with the candidate and then the policies of the party as well. I don't know that John McCain is going to be able to appeal to the youth of America. There's a bit of an age gap there!

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Both Conventions?: Will you be covering the Republican convention? Why or why not? Everything I've read seems to indicate that the youth vote breaks overwhelmingly Democratic. Why do you think that is, and what can be done to reverse the trend?

Malcom Glenn: Hopefully we'll be able to send people to the RNC as well. I got lucky for the DNC, as I happen to be a Denver resident, but I know people working at both and there are a few people here in Denver who will be headed to St. Paul as soon as this week is over.

The youth vote overwhelmingly for Democrats because the policies of that party tend to be the ones they agree with, as well as the fact that young people tend to vote Democratic anyway, and it becomes a cycle that's hard to break, for better or for worse. This can only be changed when the places where young people live and interact -- universities, namely -- become more ideologically diverse. I think it's up to the GOP to do as much as they can to expand their reach to more atypical places, and then I think we may begin to see more young people voting for them.

Justin Mandel: The Youth Blog will be at both conventions covering, yet I will only be here in Denver covering the Democrats because of thing called school. I really wish I could cover both to see the different dynamics of each and what the youth at each are looking for in their America.

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Facebook: You've raised an interesting point about reaching out to young people through Facebook and text messages, etc. Posting something online isn't the same as turning up at the polls. Anytime I work with a younger person (I'm 30), I walk away with the impression that they think if it's can't be done online, it's not worth doing. So, how does a campaign actually get voters to the polls, especially those who may have registered this summer in a different state before heading off to college?

Malcom Glenn: That's an excellent question and I don't think there's really an easy answer. What I will say is that it's up to campaigns to re-shape the idea of voting, and sell it as one of, if not the most important thing people can do as citizens of a Democratic country. Things we do online are often frivolous, too--voting, which is done in person or via mail, can hopefully carry with it a greater prestige, importance and weight because of the fact that it's not something that takes place on the computer.

Will that explanation work? Who knows, but I suppose it's worth a try.

Jason Fisher: I think that Facebook, text messages and all of the online efforts are just more ways to get people engaged and invested in the campaign. They are all easy efforts for the campaigns to engage in and they can often be the quickest, easiest and fastest way to reach a large number of people - specifically young voters. I think that through these same efforts they can make people aware of where and how to register to vote and remind them that their vote matters and to get out there.

Justin Mandel: This is the one thing that's always difficult. What I noticed in 2006 was I would get text message alerts the day of and the day before reminding me to vote. It was a great reminder, and as a freshman I made the mistake of giving out my phone number to clubs and organizations and I hated when they would constantly call me. I think these subtle reminders get people to think and say, "oh yeah, I forgot that's today," if they're not political TV junkies like me.

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Malcom Glenn: I have to run (there are so many things going on here!), but thanks to everyone for their questions and for reading. Be sure to visit youthvote.washingtonpost.com! Thanks again!

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Jason Fisher: Thank you everyone for all of the great questions. Please be sure to check out http://youthvote.washingtonpost.com/all week long, as we'll constantly be adding new content, reports, and videos from Denver. We've got a lot of exciting stories, events and interviews coming up this week, so stay tuned!

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Justin Mandel: Thanks everyone, its been great answering your questions. Please check out the youthvoteblog.com to see everything we're doing here in Denver and up till the election.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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