In preparation for the 2008 General Election, presidential candidates like Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. are modernizing their campaign techniques to attract attention from college students.
Joining the traditional door knocking, fliering and baby-kissing routines, politicians are reaching out to a younger audience with profiles and groups on Facebook and Myspace. They are also organizing conference calls for college newspaper reporters to ask questions about the candidates, such as the one held yesterday with Bill Burton, campaign national press secretary for Obama for America.
“This is a different kind of election … and the real desire for change is a galvanizing force,” Burton said. “Now more than ever, [Obama] believes we can get young folks voting … and working toward the change we are fighting for.”
Over 400,000 Facebook users, mostly college students, have joined the “Barack Obama for President in 2008” group in conjunction with the “Barack Obama (One Million Strong for Barack)” group, the latter of which was started by North Dakota graduate student Farouk Olu Aregbe.
“Every year they are going to be more and more important,” College Media Liaison Henry Kramer from Students for Barack Obama said of the new communication avenues. “It’s opening up the political process.”
Other presidential candidates, from both the Republican and Democratic parties, have online profiles and support groups on Myspace and Facebook, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., former-New York City Republican Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sen. Hilary Clinton, D-N.Y.
“Younger voters don’t participate very much, so there’s a huge payoff to candidates that can figure out ways to mobilize student voters,” Dept. of Political Science chair and professor John Woolley said of candidates’ new methods.
Due to a historically low voter turnout among younger generations, Woolley said, college students make an ideal target audience for campaign administrators to create large geographical blocks of support.
“College age students … are obviously very well educated … so they look like a high potential group and are concentrated in a certain area … so they are geographically appealing,” Woolley said. “If you can figure some way to mobilize those pockets around the country, then maybe you can make some kind of impact in the election.”
One of modern politics’ challenges, Woolley said, “has been the increasingly fragmented media environment” that makes reaching a broad audience much more difficult.
“It means they can target messages to specific audiences and speak to those audiences fairly narrowly,” Woolley said of the various media domains. “But it means the complexity and cost of mounting the campaigns has gotten higher.”
Yet television advertisements, radio placements, and the seemingly cutting-edge Facebook group campaigns may soon become old tricks. Evan Ingardia, UCSB College Democrats membership director, said campaign techniques such as Obama’s are progressive now, yet other candidates may venture into even more advanced methods.
“[Obama] is definitely one of the candidates more on the forefront of technology,” Ingardia said. “I think Obama is really focusing on the youth more so than the others. Optimizing social network groups is a really prominent thing going on right now. I wouldn’t be surprised if during election time candidates started text messaging.”
With the new mediums come standard messages. The social networking sites for the candidates include short biographies, multimedia clips of speeches, lists of affiliated organizations, links to news stories, and few defined political stances.
Meanwhile, during the conference call, Burton did not focus on Obama’s specific political issues, but emphasized that he was looking to make changes. He said Obama has a new strategy for the war in Iraq, ideas for alternative energy sources and supports funding for education.
“He’s going to make sure folks know who he is where he stands and why he is best suited to be president,” Burton said.