Facebook may be key to youth vote

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November 17, 2006

12:31 AM

p. The internet is swiftly redefining the way our world works, and the recent midterm election was no exception.

p. Online communities like Facebook.com and the proliferation of personal blogs have transformed the way in which politicians communicate with their supporters, especially young voters.

p. Election Pulse, a new feature on Facebook.com, compiled the candidates sponsored by each member of the site. Users accurately voted for winners Jim Webb (D-Va.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Jon Tester (D-Mt.) in close senatorial elections.

p. “All of the student choices were Democrats except Dick DeVos, the Republican candidate for Governor of Michigan, who won,” Government professor John McGlennon said. “But the Facebook results were generally consistent with the preferences of young voters, who were among the most pro-Democratic groups in this election.”

p. Jim Webb was one of many candidates given a personal profile on the popular website. Webb’s content was updated regularly, and his page informed users of his basic political and personal information. Webb lists “Taking Back Virginia!” as his only interest.

p. “I can’t wait for January! a Democrat Congress? I really didn’t see it coming … I’ve been smiling since Tuesday! Gosh I’m such a geek, this has really made the holiday season for me,” Chastity Bowman, a senior at East Mennonite College, wrote on Webb’s Facebook.com wall Nov. 12.

p. According to the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper at Harvard University, Facebook.com administrators created personal pages for the candidates, who were allowed to edit these profiles as they saw fit.

p. Of the 12 top races that Facebook.com identified, Election Pulse correctly identified the winners in nine. A majority of users supported the Democratic or independent candidate in all but one of the races.

p. In the tight Senate race in Tennessee, Republican Bob Corker edged out Facebook.com user favorite Harold Ford, a Democrat. Republican Rick Perry also beat independent competitor Kinky Friedman despite an overwhelming majority of Facebook.com support for Friedman. Facebook.com users supported Michigan gubernatorial challenger Republican Dick DeVos over incumbent Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat. DeVos was the only Republican favored by Election Pulse.

p. Despite its accuracy, some claim that such sites do a poor job representing the entire voting pool.

p. “[The outcomes have] no basis other than you have to be a member of Facebook to participate; that is not sufficiently reliable to glean any sort of overall trend in politics or in the electorate,” Brian Story, campaign manager for the William and Mary Young Democrats, maintained. Unlike polls, there is no science or method to the Election Pulse results.

p. Nonetheless, such sites were vital tools for candidates this November.

p. “In this election, activists, the ‘netroots,’ helped push the parties to support candidates who would have had a hard time gaining the attention of the national party organizations,” McGlennon said.

p. McGlennon pointed in particular to Webb, who acknowledged the importance of the internet in his victory.

p. Although the internet assumed a more central role in campaigns, it did not guarantee a win for candidates. Candidates Ned Lamont and Harold Ford both actively used the internet in their campaigns, but both lost.

p. Young voter turnout was at a 20-year high in this latest midterm election. This year, 24 percent of people under the age of 30 cast ballots according to CNN exit polls. This represents a 4 percent increase since 2002.

p. “I think having a Facebook profile is advantageous to campaigns. There is no reason for them not to try to get the youth vote via Facebook and other technologies,” Joe Luppino-Esposito, chairman of the College Republicans, said.

p. McGlennon, like Luppino-Esposito, remains optimistic about using Facebook this way.

p. “Finally, you ask about whether the intrusion of politics into personal pages is an encroachment,” he said. “I’d say that it is not, but more a reflection of a higher level of interest and involvement by young people in politics than we’ve been used to for the past couple of decades.”

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