Campaigns target young voters

November 05, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY and ERIN JULIUS

Maryland political campaigns counted on the power of the Internet to reach young, technologically savvy voters this year, and many candidates involved young people in their election efforts.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich's campaign more heavily relied on its Web site than it did in 2002, said Shareese DeLeaver, campaign press secretary. More people of all ages are using the Internet now, but young voters especially lean toward technology, she said.

More interactive than it was four years ago, the campaign Web site for Ehrlich, a Republican, features television and radio advertisements.

Many campaign staff members are college students on hiatus, said DeLeaver, who called the staff "youthful, but experienced."

Social networking Web sites, including Facebook and MySpace, have profiles and groups supporting Ehrlich's re-election, but those profiles are independent of the campaign, DeLeaver said.


Supporters of Ehrlich's opponent, Democrat Martin O'Malley, also created several groups and profiles supporting their candidate. The Facebook group "O'Malley-Brown for Maryland" had nearly 1,000 members recently.

Hari Sevugan, communications director for O'Malley's campaign, said O'Malley has an active Internet site with video and audio clips, an e-mail program and a blog - a Web journal - that is updated almost daily.

To reach young voters, O'Malley has been visiting college campuses, and the campaign counts young people among its volunteers.

"There's an army of young people who essentially are our field staff and our volunteers," Sevugan said. "(Their activities) run the gamut from phone calls to canvassing to putting up signs."

O'Malley wanted to involve young volunteers because he worked as a teenager for a campaign, and knows what younger people can contribute in the form of energy and dedication, Sevugan said.

Young people also will be affected by this election, he said.

"This election is really about what kind of direction Maryland is going to head in 20 to 40 years," Sevugan said. "Clearly, those are issues that are going to affect the younger people of Maryland for a long time."

Getting the word out

Oren Shur, U.S. Senate candidate Ben Cardin's campaign press secretary, said that Cardin, a Democrat, has visited college campuses across the state to reach out to young voters.

"We're finding that they really do care about the issues," Shur said.

Young men and women also make up part of Cardin's campaign volunteer efforts.

"We have dozens of young people - college students, high school students - involved in this campaign," Shur said, saying they are knocking on doors and making phone calls on behalf of Cardin. "They truly represent the energy of this campaign."

To reach young voters electronically, Cardin has a Web site, and has posted videos on the popular video-sharing Web site YouTube, Shur said.

"Young people are who the election is about. The future of our country," Shur said.

Officials with Republican U.S. Senate candidate Michael S. Steele's campaign office did not return two calls for comment.

U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett's campaign staff wants to post a profile on Facebook, campaign manager Melissa Bartlett said.

"We would like to be involved in that type of environment," she said of the Republican 6th District incumbent.

The Bartlett campaign has found that young people visit the campaign Web site, and like to make contributions via the Internet, she said.

In 2004, the campaign ran rotating ads in movie theaters as a way to reach younger voters, Melissa Bartlett said.

Democrat Andrew Duck's campaign for the seat held by Bartlett also has a strong presence on the Internet, and the campaign often is at forums and rallies at schools, press secretary Matt Hudson said.

Duck's Web site features a blog and an online calendar so people can see when Duck will be in their area, Hudson said.

"We are concerned about attracting a young vote because of the apathy shown by the younger generation," Hudson said. "We are trying to get them involved in our campaign."

That apathy has not gone unnoticed.

An important voting bloc

Spring Ward, an associate professor of history and political science at Hagerstown Community College, said that less than half of the 18- to 24-year-olds who are eligible to vote do so.

Ward said she recently asked students in her American government class for their thoughts on the topic.

Some say they do not vote because they believe they do not have enough information about the candidates, while others say they have more important priorities, or they do not feel politicians care about them, Ward said.

"Sometimes, they don't see the connection in their own lives with politics," she said.

Young voters are important, Ward said.

"As a voter bloc, that group has the potential to literally change the country," she said.

Pop culture influences on young voters include young actors and actresses pushing people to vote, as well as national efforts such as Rock The Vote aimed toward the younger generation.

"There's potential change afoot," Ward said. "Is it going to take a long time? It may."

Tom Clemens, a professor at HCC, said he also asks his students about the issue of voting. Some are apathetic and some are excited about voting, but most fall somewhere in the middle, he said.

"I regularly kind of canvass my class to see if they are intending to vote, and why and what their thoughts are," Clemens said. "I'm always surprised and disappointed with the number who seem disaffected with the system. One student just said, 'Well, they're all corrupt, so I don't want to vote for any of them.'"

Clemens said he tries to convince his students of the importance of voting, telling the student who believes all politicians are corrupt that the only way to bring about change is to elect honest people.

"If they don't (vote and become involved), we risk the loss of the entire system," Clemens said.

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