Several months back, when both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were campaigning for the Democratic nomination, I posed the question in this blog: Will it be women or children first? While Hillary was using her proven political ties and tried-and-true campaign tactics, Obama centered his campaign on ‘change’ and focused on the younger generation of voters.Many laughed at Obama for focusing on Gen Y– the generation with the least number of people old enough to vote, the least exposure to politics, and who were the most likely to shirk their voting responsibilities.Obviously, the ‘children’ had more influence than the political veterans realized and Obama became the Democratic nominee.But now that Republican nominee Senator John McCain has selected Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to be his vice presidential running mate, the question looms again: Will it be women or children first? Will the McCain camp be able to sway young voters with the prospect of bringing a woman into office?Undoubtedly, Palin is proving to be very popular with delegates to the Republican National Convention. Analysts have said McCain’s decision to bring Palin onto the ticket has energized the party and increased its odds of success in the election.But will it be enough?Since the nominees were named, much has been made of the 25-year age gap between Democratic nominee Barack Obama, 47, and Republican senator John McCain, 72, and their abilities to appeal to younger voters.This is the first campaign in history when a generational divide between candidates and voters is so apparent. There has actually been more emphasis on each party’s ability to market itself than there has been on their party’s messages!From the beginning, Obama has been marketed like a high-end consumer brand, with seamless graphics, a rising-sun logo, music videos, and a mellow aura that isn’t polarizing and appeals to younger voters.His campaign has made ample use of Web-based social media to drive participation and contributions and his sites boast nearly 2 million supporters on his MySpace and Facebook pages, while McCain has fewer than 330,000 supporters. Obama’s YouTube videos have received 60 million views compared with McCain’s 14 million.In an August poll by the Harvard Institute of Politics, Obama had a 23-percentage-point lead over McCain among likely voters aged 18 to 24. The poll also found that there is a gap between the enthusiasm supporters express for the respective candidates: More than 4 in 5 young voters say they are excited to vote for Obama, while only 56% say they are excited about voting for McCain.According to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, in the 2004 Presidential election, voters ages 18-to-24-year-old were evenly split between parties: 35% called themselves Republicans, 39% were Democrats.It will be fascinating to observe what happens in this election. Will young voters remain true to party lines? Will one party prove to be more influential than the other with young voters?In any case, one lesson is already apparent: Don’t overlook young America. They are 80 million strong. They are influential, they do care about America’s future, and their voices will be heard.
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