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Pundits debate midterm elections, youth vote at American Forum

Pundits debate midterm elections, youth vote at American Forum
Democratic pundit Karen Finney, left, and SOC professor Jane Hall.

With less than a month to go before the Nov. 2 midterm elections, the youth vote is still up for grabs, panelists said at Wednesday’s American Forum in the Katzen Arts Center.

“Young voters are most likely to make up their minds on Election Day,” said panelist Karen Finney, an MSNBC political analyst and former communications director for the Democratic National Committee.

Republicans courted the youth vote well in 2004, according to panelist Kevin Madden, a public relations executive, Republican strategist and former press secretary for Gov. Mitt Romney's 2008 presidential campaign and for House minority leader John Boehner.

But the GOP’s work in 2004 was only what Madden called “version 1.0.” In 2008, Madden said, then-candidate Barack Obama took it youth engagement to “version 7.0.”

The American Forum is an hour-long, multimedia town hall event that “seeks to connect and engage young people with national and international media issues,” according to its website. It is sponsored by the School of Communication.

AU School of Communication Associate Professor Jane Hall moderated this event, which was called “Is Your Vote up for Grabs?”

While Finney and Madden debated Obama, the youth vote, Congress and the Tea Party, an on-stage screen projected a live Twitter feed, where audience members could audience members contribute their thoughts.

Madden said he could not believe social media is still sometimes referred to as ‘new media.

“It’s standard media now,” he said.

The American Forum isn’t the only event using a Twitter-style town hall. Panelists discussed MTV’s recent announcement that Obama would appear in a similar event Oct. 14 in a push to re-engage the fan base that helped propel him to the White House in 2008 for congressional Democrats.

A lot of youth voters are not necessarily motivated by House candidate A or Senate candidate B, Finney said. Obama’s presence might re-engage the youth and make them more enthusiastic about the midterm elections.

But Obama’s base is not just made up of youth voters, Madden said.

Nor is it made up of just liberals, he added. Obama did not have 70 percent approval ratings at one time on just those groups — he had the support of independents and some Republicans too.

“He did not run because people thought he was a liberal,” he said, noting the campaign appealed to the center.

Madden cited the recent success of the Tea Party in channeling independent voter anxiety and anger at the deficit, spending and overall Washington disconnect into a move toward the right end of the political spectrum.

Hall’s last question to the panelists took this political shift to the right into account and asked them to predict the percentage of youth voters that would vote Republican in the 2022 election. In the 2008 presidential election, 66 percent of the 18-29 year-old demographic voted for Obama, according to the New York Times.

Madden started with 30 percent, but then upped his guess to 45 percent.

Finney guessed 60 percent.

“Well most people that are voting now will probably be Democrats, because if you vote three times in the same direction, you tend to continue to vote that way,” Finney said.

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