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Obama Campaign Will Draw Youth Vote

Sen. Barack Obama has officially formed an exploratory committee and plans to conduct listening tours across the country to determine if he should run for president. While Obama has a variety of supporters, there is no stronger group pulling for him than young people. Students and youth are extremely excited about his campaign and can provide critical support in the coming months.

I attend a small liberal arts school in rural Pennsylvania. I have been amazed at the number of students who ask me about Obama and can’t wait for his campaign. Obama has the support of political types, but he also excites kids who have never voted in their lives. I got a copy of his latest book for Christmas and half a dozen students have already asked to borrow it.

I have seen firsthand Obama’s ability to appeal to unlikely constituencies. Most of my fellow students are white and grew up in rural areas. The first day of hunting season is practically a holiday. Yet many of these students are eager to vote for a black guy from Chicago with a self-described funny name.

Most of my fellow students are white and grew up in rural areas. The first day of hunting season is practically a holiday. Yet many of these students are eager to vote for a black guy from Chicago with a self-described funny name.

The evidence isn’t just anecidotal. Obama has spoken on campuses across the country and almost always draws a crowd of thousands. He is one of the most popular commencement speakers after John Stewart from The Daily Show. On the campaign trail, he can deliver crowds of young voters to virtually any candidate. He is by far the most popular candidate among millions of young users on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.

Why is Barack Obama so incredibly popular among young people? There are a number of factors.

First, he is offering a positive vision for the future and trying to move beyond bitter partisanship. Young people are sick and tired of bitter partisanship that dominates contemporary politics. From the new global economy to the looming healthcare crisis, Obama is the only candidate more interested in find solutions than placing blame. This is the type of politics that my generation hungers for.

Second, he is able to transcend many past battles that young people don’t care about. The biggest issue in the last presidential campaign had to do with someone’s recollection of John Kerry’s service in Vietnam. That might be interesting for baby boomers, but is completely irrelevant to anyone under 40. My generation doesn’t want to spend time and energy fighting ancient wars from the 1960s. Obama is the first national political leader to have been born late enough to avoid these tired controversies. Instead, he can look forward and anticipate problems instead of open old wounds.

Third, my generation is by far the most socially tolerant demographic in the country and wants a national leader who can advance the conversation about race in America. Every poll shows that my generation is the most tolerant demographic. A sizeable majority claim that race does not play a factor in how they would vote for president. This is an incredible departure from past behavior. Some claim that Obama transcends race. This is not true. However, his campaign will provide an opportunity for millions of young people to express a new kind of politics that views racism as a problem for everyone.

Obama should recognize the tremendous support among youth. Everyone knows that crowds of idealistic students can provide legitimacy and romance to any campaign. He should seek to register and mobilize millions of new young voters. There are major universities in every primary and swing state. Obama should make sure to engage and mobilize my generation at all levels of his campaign.

Historically, transcendent figures in American politics have strong support from young people. Obama can be one such figure if he continues on his current path. Students and youth can be a valuable resource and should not be overlooked.

Ben Waxman studies politics at Juniata College and can be reached at ben@benwaxman.com.