Saturday, September 23, 2006

Web-savvy young voters study for midterms
MySpace, Facebook become hunting grounds for PACs, parties

Updated: 6:40 p.m. MT Sept 23, 2006

BOSTON - A tech-savvy college senior with a passion for politics, Ryan Briggs is fed up with the White House and is urging young Democrats to stand up for their party. But he’s not waving placards or handing out fliers.

Briggs is rallying his peers on fast-growing social networking Web site Facebook, posting comments in a “Democrats for 2006” message board open to the site’s 9.5 million members, most of whom are students like him.

“We have to start thinking positively and we have to stop attacking Republicans,” the 21-year-old student in Minnesota said in one posting. “We just need to stand up for the Democratic Party,” he says in another.

As Republicans fight to keep control of Congress, both parties hope to mobilize young voters who turned out in record numbers in the 2004 presidential election and are considered one of the wild cards in November’s congressional races.

Web awash in politics
Many, like Briggs, are going online and finding a panorama of nonpartisan and political groups offering tools ranging from interactive Web sites to candidate and party Web logs, text messaging and forums to rally both parties.

“It is a great tool for getting others into politics,” Briggs said in an interview, referring to Facebook, which recently allowed users to list the political candidates they support alongside their favorite movies, quirky photographs, quotes and other personal information.

Howard Dean’s failed 2004 presidential campaign was the first to harness the power of the Internet. Dean became an early front-runner for the Democratic nomination, driven by ”Deanie Babies” who organized on blogs and worked as volunteers, canvassed voters and became a new breed of donors through small cash donations made online.

With Democrats campaigning to pick up 15 seats in the House and six in the Senate to reclaim control in each chamber, young Americans, who make up about 20 percent of the electorate, could prove decisive in the tightest races.

Youth vote even up for grabs?
A nationwide survey released this month showed young Americans prefer Democrats to Republicans by a 21-point margin, up from 19 percent in April.

That’s enough to cost some Republican candidates the race, said Ed Goeas, a Republican pollster who analyzed the survey taken by the nonpartisan “Young Voter Strategies.”

He said if young voters turn out in November in the same numbers as in the 2002 mid-term elections, they could give Democrats a 1.8 percentage point advantage, enough to sway any of several razor-tight races this year.

“We can do a better job, as Republicans, addressing the registration of the younger voters,” he said.

But Democrats also face a challenge. Although they have a clear advantage in numbers, the poll shows young Republicans are more intensely loyal and likely to vote.

“The Democratic base continues to need work,” said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake in Washington. “Young voters are not very engaged.”

Surf the vote
Hans Riemer, political director of Rock the Vote, is trying to change that. The youth-and-civics group launched its first political advertisements for 2006 Friday.

The ads will appear on, a youth social networking site with more than 100 million members. “MySpace was a small factor in the 2004 election but it’s taken off since then and it’s just a different animal now,” he said.

Text-messaging with cell phones is another new tool.

Mark Warner, a former Virginia governor who is testing the waters for a presidential campaign, launched a nationwide voter registration drive on Friday targeting young cell phone users.

“Finding young people is often hard, but they always have a phone,” said Heather Smith, director of “Young Voter Strategies,” an affiliate of George Washington University., a new Web site, is speeding the process along.

Much is at stake. The so-called “Generation Y” of Americans born between 1977 and 1994 -- shaped by the Sept. 11 attacks, the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina -- in nine years will make up a third of the electorate, or about 82 million people.