New media's influence on the presidential primaries

BY: DANIELA GUTIERREZ

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The race is on. The 2008 presidential election is of vital importance for American and global politics. Candidates' campaigns started more than 20 months before the actual election, far earlier than in past years. One of the most desirable demographics has been college-age voters. We are a big target. From "rocking the vote," to celebrities encouraging political involvement, to YouTube debates and virtual friendships on social networking sites, politicians are out to get us.

Mass media-especially the Internet- is definitely changing the way politicians handle their campaigns. They've realized that young people are addicted to the Internet, and they are using new strategies to get us interested in politics. Since Bush's popularity is so anemic, and Vice President Dick Cheney has decided not to run, the election is wide open. Everyone wants to run, and anybody could win.

All candidates have a huge online presence. They all have an official website, and almost all of them have a MySpace and a Facebook profile. Some have more than one profile, an official one created by the campaign and another one created by "fans." Some candidates even have YouTube and Flickr accounts.

Online donations are a big issue for this campaign, and links to donate are easily found on any of these websites.

According to journalism professor Judy Frutig, who has taught several classes on media and politics, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is one of the strongest online candidates. Not only does he have the most virtual "friends" on MySpace and Facebook, but 90% of his donations were for less than $100. And many of them were made via the Web.

"College students are sending him all their extra $20 [bills] online," Frutig said.

According to Frutig, the Internet is a decisive factor because it works differently from traditional methods.

What separates it from traditional media is that it is much more interactive. Using the Web, people have the option to look for exactly what they are interested in. They can easily communicate with others and discuss their own primary concerns.

For the past two major elections, voter turnout among young people increased. In 2004, youth turnout jumped nine percentage points, up to 4.3 million voters. By 2006, young voter turnout hit 10.8 million.

What about Cal State Long Beach students? In a recent DIG informal survey of 100 students from different majors, 78% of students are registered to vote. Furthermore, 68% of those not registered are planning to register and vote in the upcoming presidential election. Still, our students differ somewhat from the national trends. Most of those surveyed still got the majority of their information on the candidates from television and newspapers. Only 1% said they had added any of the candidates on their MySpace or Facebook.

Nevertheless, 61% said that they believe a candidate's online presence has an impact on young voters.

Forty percent said that they don't think any of the candidates have done a better job targeting young voters. Still, Obama got the highest percentage in the same question with 33. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), on the other hand, got 16%.

The Democrats' drew the highest scores with online media and young voters. The only Republican candidate mentioned by the students surveyed was Ron Paul (R-Texas) with 5.6%.

But candidates know that it is critical to have a strong online presence.

The YouTube video of Clinton singing the National Anthem off-tune has drawn almost 2 million views in recent months.

There was also a big controversy when Clinton was featured as Big Brother in a parody of the famous Apple 1984 Super Bowl ad. The ad debuted on YouTube and not on television like previous attack ads. That video has more than 4 million hits so far.

For senior philosophy major Adam Swaller, 23, new media is important but not essential.

"I think the Internet is definitely important for people that are already interested in politics, and in getting more information about the candidates," he said.

Moreover, he said that if turnout has been increasing, it is not because the Internet is magically getting young people to vote. Instead, it's due to political scandals and anti-war emotions, like those expressed in an anti-war protest on campus last month.

Still, it is clear that the Internet does play an important role in today's politics, especially in campaigning. The promotion of more independent movements is strongly based on the Web. An example is MoveOn.org. This website started in the late '90s as an e-mail group, and it is now a very influential Internet-based political group. It has become a strong organizer as well a powerful fundraising resource for Democratic candidates.

Cynthia Romanowski, a 23-year-old senior journalism major, said that she thinks the campaigns should be more personalized to really get young people interested.

"I get e-mail updates from the Democratic Party every so often, and I'm more likely to read those than to go to their website and read them there," she said.

Opinions are diverse, but we are definitely seeing an increase in both young voter turnout and Internet usage. It could be connected, or it could be that those who are interested in politics will get the information they want and those who aren't won't. But the Internet is definitely making it a little bit easier for those who aren't into politics to get information. Still, we won't know the actual impact until the race is over.