- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2008


They missed classes, lost sleep and skipped parties. Thousands spent countless hours instead knocking on doors to make a case for Sen. Barack Obama, the man who would be elected the next president of the United States. Many more young Obama supporters stood in line for hours to vote, some for the first time.

Tobin Van Ostern, a senior at George Washington University, knew it was all worth it as he and hundreds of other students raced down to the White House, cheering and chanting after their candidate’s win Tuesday night.

“It was one of the most incredible feelings I have ever felt,” said Mr. Van Ostern, national co-director of Students for Barack Obama. “People were all so hopeful for the future.”

The night was a huge moment for Mr. Obama, of course, but some say it also was a defining moment for a generation of youth who played a key role in electing him. Exit polls show that 18-to 29-year-olds voted for Mr. Obama by a margin of more than 2-1, boosted by particularly strong support from young blacks, Hispanics and Asian-Americans.

In his speech at Chicago’s Grant Park on election night, the president-elect called their involvement a rejection of “the myth of their generation’s apathy.”

Eric Greenberg, who studies this group, known as echo boomers, Generation Y or millennials, goes as far as calling it a “changing of the guard, a new political epoch, a youth movement.”

“They believe the solution starts with themselves, and we just saw it play out in Technicolor on election night,” said Mr. Greenberg, author of “Generation We: How Millennial Youth Are Taking Over America and Changing Our World Forever.”

That attitude, he and others say, was an ideal match for a candidate whose catchphrase is “Yes we can.”

Associated Press exit polls show people under 30 made up 18 percent of those who voted in Tuesday’s election, essentially the same as their 17 percent share in 2000 and 2004. However, Mr. Obama’s 66-31 advantage over Sen. John McCain among voters age 18 to 29 was easily the biggest margin for a Democrat in presidential exit polls going back to 1972.

As a racially and ethnically diverse generation, young people had an appreciation for a candidate of mixed race that their elders sometimes did not. They came of age amid the horrible events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the aftermath.

So - with the economy tanking this year, an ongoing war in Iraq and global warming looming - they were more than ready for Mr. Obama’s “call to action,” said Smita Reddy, a 28-year-old New Yorker whose parents grew up in India and live in Pennsylvania.

Miss Reddy voted for Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts for president in 2004, when the only age group with a majority supporting him was the 18-to 29-year-old demographic.

This time, exit polls show that voters older than 60 - generally thought of as a voting bloc that sets the tone in an election - were the only age bracket with a majority of votes for Mr. McCain.

Suddenly, it was young voters who were leading their elders, not following, as they have tended to do.

“This election felt much more different. It was taking matters into our own hands to have a say,” said Miss Reddy, who also helped persuade her father to change his vote from Mr. McCain to Mr. Obama days before the election.

Their strong showing for Mr. Obama doesn’t mean young people were always united on a candidate.

In Arkansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia, for instance, exit polls show that young voters favored Mr. McCain by a fairly wide margin.

Nevertheless, Molly Andolina, a political science professor at DePaul University, said there are early signs that Mr. Obama may bring young people together, something her students discussed in classes after the election.

“Even students who did not vote for Obama said they felt a responsibility to ‘try to help him out’ and how we live in a democracy that isn’t about ‘government governing the people, but people taking responsibility,’” said Miss Andolina, who researches the habits of young voters. “It is amazing to hear them talk in these terms.”

In many ways, they are echoing a sentiment of another young American president, John F. Kennedy - asking what they can do for their country.

Alexandra Thomas, a 23-year-old graduate student at the University of Texas, said it’s true that her generation wants to do more.

She was inspired to travel to Louisiana to volunteer after Hurricane Katrina after she read Mr. Obama’s first book, “Dreams From My Father.”

“That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve ever done, and [Mr. Obama] wasn’t even a future president at that point,” said Miss Thomas, who is studying documentary filmmaking.

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