By Abigail Shaha
When Sen. Barack Obama spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, Sen. John Kerry was the party”s presidential candidate. Though he wasn”t in the spotlight, Obama”s message of uniting red and blue states stuck with a lot of voters tired of party politics and division.
One of these viewers was Channing Hancock, who now serves as the Utah state coordinator of Students for Obama. Even though Hancock had heard little from Obama before 2004, she said his message of hope and unification stayed with her and motivated her to get involved in the Obama campaign four years later.
Hancock”s not alone. Many college-aged students all over the nation are getting politically motivated for Obama”s campaign. For many of them, this is their first time taking part in the political process because of either age or apathy at previous elections.
By motivating this historically inactive voting demographic, Obama has given himself the image of the candidate with a fresh approach and new ideas. Despite early doubts by other candidates about how long this strategy would last, it”s part of what has carried him through several primaries with higher numbers than his critics expected.
According to Politico, a joint news venture by the Los Angeles Times and CNN, 57 percent of Iowa voters age 17 to 24 voted for Obama. In New Hampshire that number jumped to 62 percent. Nevada caucus voters of this age preferred Obama to Clinton by more than 26 percent. 18 percent of students polled by the Harvard”s Institute of Politics said they were “enthusiastic” about Obama as their choice for president.
But how does an Illinois senator motivate this traditionally apathetic voting demographic?
Many students say it”s his speeches and message of hope.
“He just has this energy, especially when he speaks,” said Kenneth Daines, an Obama supporter from Ogden. “When I hear him, I believe what he”s saying. He has no outward political motives, and he sounds like he”ll actually do what he”s saying.”
Daines also said Obama seemed the most genuine and honest of the candidates, an idea Hancock said she agreed with.
“His ideas follow more of traditional Mormon values, like his family life, and bringing changes and integrity to Washington,” Hancock said.
Amaya Smith, campaign spokeswoman for the Obama campaign in South Carolina, said Obama attracts young voters because of his promise to unify.
“I think they [young people] tend to be more concerned about bringing this country together,” said Smith in a news conference. “They are not involved in the old partisan fights and some of the old bickering that we have seen in the past.”
Shane Woods, a BYU student from Hammonton, N.J., supporting Obama, said this unity was appealing to him.
“We grew up with gridlock in Washington and had no voice,” he said. “But he [Obama] can overcome bipartisanship and bridge the gap between blue and red.”
Darren Jackson, president of the BYU Democrats, said he thinks part of Obama”s appeal comes from his growing popularity among other college-aged students.
“It”s popular to like Obama,” Jackson said. “He”s something different from the traditional candidate, and people aren”t afraid to support him.”
Hancock agreed, citing Obama”s use of YouTube, Facebook and text messaging as a way of connecting with the new generation of voters.
“The campaign has its own social network,” she said. “It”s not just you supporting Obama, it”s you and your friends all supporting him together.”
Other students said they were interested in Obama”s plan to make college cheaper, which would include making financial aid applications part of filing taxes instead of through FAFSA. Obama”s official Web site said this idea would be coupled with a plan to provide students with $4,000 each year for college in exchange for 100 hours of community service.
“These policies are more about values than positions,” Hancock said.
But whatever the reason, Obama supporters all said they”re eager to see something different this election year.
“Frankly, he”s new,” said Nathan Freeman, Obama supporter from Springville . “He”s doing something that hasn”t been done before.”