A few days ago, Senator Ted Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama by stating that ‘it’s time again for a new generation of leadership.’ He was talking not only about the candidacy of Obama, but also about the energy of the many young people who support him.
I’ve been phoning people who live in Orange County and working at the UC Irvine Students for Barack Obama table for the last few weeks. I’ve also been handing out flyers every day for the past week, and the comments have been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve been able to witness firsthand the hunger for change.
However, where are Obama’s opponents? Supporters of Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul and Hillary Clinton have infrequently set up tables on campus, while the other candidates seem to be missing in action. It’s easy to dismiss the support for Obama at UCI as predictable, but that is exactly my point. Obama is doing extremely well among young voters, not just at UCI, but across the country. According to CNN’s exit polling, Obama won 57 percent of the 18-30 votes in Iowa, 59 percent in Nevada and 67 percent in South Carolina.
Numbers like these are impressive, especially considering that in the early contests, Obama received more of the youth vote than John Edwards and Clinton combined. Now that the race for the Democratic nomination is down to only two individuals, Californians, along with voters from more than 20 other states, are going to make their voices heard on Feb. 5.
Although Obama has consistently won the biggest proportion of the youth vote, young people have not shown up in record numbers for every primary. Obama won big in Iowa and South Carolina. In those states, 22 percent and 14 percent of voters were under the age of 30. Nevada and New Hampshire witnessed two narrow Obama losses. Only 13 percent and 11 percent of those voters were under 30. The bottom line is that if Obama wins, it will be because of his young supporters in places just like UCI. If he doesn’t, it will be because young voters didn’t show up to vote.
Fortunately for the Illinois senator, the youth have a lot to like about Obama. His Web site is easily accessible and, unlike other campaigns, includes sections specifically for students. He has a vibrant presence on Web sites like Facebook and lots of interesting and funny videos by him and about him on YouTube.
More importantly, Obama has positions on issues that resonate with young voters. He was against the Iraq War from the start, and he wants to bring the troops home. He proposes an optional national healthcare plan that will be available and affordable for all Americans. He has fought to increase federal student aid and stop budget cuts that hurt education. He has also been a strong advocate for open and honest government, stating that he would broadcast his domestic policy meetings on C-SPAN and ask his cabinet members to keep personal blogs to communicate with and get feedback from the general public.
After seven years of George W. Bush, conservatives and liberals alike are hungry for change. Obama has the experience and the vision to bring about that change. He’s been able to work across the aisle to get things done instead of engaging in partisan bickering. He co-sponsored a bill with conservative Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma to compile a database of all current legislation to tell the general public who is responsible for pork spending in Congress. He worked with Kennedy and John McCain to create a plan for comprehensive immigration reform. He also helped pass some of the toughest ethics reform legislation since Watergate and sponsored a bill to give extra job protection to family members caring for wounded veterans.
Our vote on Tuesday may very well decide the next President of the United States. Our role as voters, whether or not we choose to embrace it, is to write history. I’m going to continue doing everything I can to help Obama. Whoever your candidate of choice may be, I hope you do the same.
Jared Plotkin is a third-year political science major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.