Panel explores role of youth in politics

Panel explores role of youth in politics
POWER OF YOUTH — Journalists such as David Gregory of NBC’s Meet the Press and Jose Antonio Vargas of the Huffington Post discussed Obama’s current relationship with young voters Tuesday night.

Despite the social media phenomenon in today’s society, young people are more concerned over the content of political messages, rather than the way they are delivered, according to some members of Tuesday night’s American Forum panel.

The discussion, “Change+1: Are Young People Talking Back to President Obama?” focused on the way the 18- to 29-year-old cohort feels about politics and President Barack Obama one year after the presidential election. The panel featured some of today’s leading journalists, including AU alumnus David Gregory of NBC’s Meet the Press and Jose Antonio Vargas of the Huffington Post.

While Obama did well at connecting with the younger audience during the campaign, Vargas said that despite his 6.9 million Facebook friends and millions more on his e-mail lists, the real challenge is still to come. What the president needs to do now is to keep these people engaged and paying attention to the policy issues that the administration now faces, he said.

But for young people as a whole, some policy issues are inherently disinteresting, according to Gregory. The constant drama of the 2008 political campaign tends to keep Americans more engaged than policy ever could, he said. As a result, young people are starting to lose a bit of their faith in Obama as a policymaker, Gregory said.

“What you have is faith in a leader and less faith and support in his policies,” he said.

The 2008 election was not the first time young people were truly a driving force in determining the outcome of an election — that already happened in the 2006 midterm elections, according to Republican strategist and President of The Winston Group David Winston. The idea of engaging young people may have not been entirely unique to the Obama campaign, he said.

“The interesting dynamic is: Is it 18- to 29-year-olds following Obama, or is it Obama following 18- to 29-year-olds?” he said.

The panel also touched on the constant criticism from voters and the media that the GOP falls short in reaching younger voters compared to its Democratic counterpart. This stems from the thought that Republicans have not traditionally reached out to that audience, according to Winston.

“The reason a large part of these [Republican] campaigns didn’t know how to [use social media] is because targeting 18- to 29-year-olds wasn’t even part of their campaign plan, so why would they even pick up that skill?” Winston said. “The challenge of the Republican Party isn’t to learn to use technology; the challenge of the Republican Party is how to have a conversation with 18- to 29-year-olds.”

But Vargas said that despite criticism, Republicans were doing much better than Democrats on Twitter.

“Technology is not a panacea,” Vargas said. “At the end of the day, it’s not technology. It really is the message.”

The way young people are getting their news has affected politics, according to Gregory. There is a divide between generations, where fewer and fewer young people are reading newspapers in print and more and more are getting information from online news. Still, he said, the job of keeping young people involved comes from the federal government.

“The problem is not between left and right and who uses technology better,” Gregory said. “It’s also the role of government in [young people’s] lives and what [the youth] think it should be doing.”

This debate between right and left over whether government is the solution is something that does affect young people, he said.

“That’s the battleground. That’s the proving ground, a lot more than who’s winning the war on Twitter,” Gregory said.

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