Youth, online sites can tip election

By By Benjamin Dailey

By Benjamin Dailey

Tack a few more points on the board for YouTube and Facebook. With an ever-growing influence, Facebook and YouTube seem to be taking the information world by storm. What were once recreation-based means of social networking have now exploded into principal channels of communication for news, sports and yes, politics.

Facebook flexed its virtual muscles early in 2007 with Obama’s first campaign rally, organized by the group “Students for Barack Obama,” who used Facebook as its key tool of promotion. Although the Obama campaign did not officially take a role in organizing the rally, after the Facebook event surpassed 50,000 supporters, Sen. Obama himself made an appearance.

Viral marketing8212;advertising through established social networks8212;was a main focus at this year’s National College Conference for Political Engagement, hosted by the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. “Get people to vote!” was the underlying message of the three-day conference, which consisted of student political leaders from more than 50 universities throughout the country. The conference gave GOP and Democratic chairs the opportunity to brainstorm and bring their experience and success to the table to come up with solutions to challenges as a collective national team.

Past Harvard political engagement conferences have already shown benefits at the U, giving effective marketing and logistical ideas to the U VoteProject, which is responsible for more than 2,000 student voter registrations this year.

This online phenomenon of viral marketing might just make the difference in this year’s election. Combined, YouTube and Facebook have on record more than 100 million U.S. accounts, and it appears that online social networking is growing exponentially.

Harvard repeatedly mentioned viral advertising as one of the most effective, cost-beneficial campaigning tools available, which is why most of us have already been invited to join “1 Million Strong for Palin,” or “The University of Utah for Barack Obama Chapter.” Both Obama and John McCain have MySpace and Facebook pages as well as their own personal YouTube channels. Through these electronic tools, the candidates are pushing voter registration and involvement in their campaign activities. Sen. McCain’s official Facebook page has more than 500,000 friends, an otherwise impressive figure if it weren’t dwarfed by Obama’s nearly 2 million Facebook supporters.

Mass text messages are also a front-runner of the viral marketing realm. Text “studentvote” to 41411 and you’ll receive instructions leading you to www.StudentVote.org, which is a site that assists students with voter registration in all 50 states. With the outreach of viral marketing, only time will tell how big the impact is, especially when encouraging voters ages 18-24.

With the increasing interest of young voters, the saying, “What do you call a candidate who focuses on the youth vote? The loser,” appears to be inaccurate. With the high-profile presidential election and dire situation of the U.S. economy, political awareness among college students is reaching all-time highs, but will this awareness be reflected in voter turnout come Nov. 4?

Thanks to the efforts of the U VoteProject, an early voting booth will be available to all U students registered in Salt Lake County. The booth will be located in the Union building from Oct. 21-31. Get out and vote!

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Editor’s Note8212;Benjamin Dailey, the national campaign consortium for the Hinckley Institute of Politics, recently traveled to Cambridge, Mass., along with four other U students courtesy of the Hinckley Institute to take part in the National College Conference for Political Engagement at Harvard University from Sept. 19 to Sept. 21.

Benjamin Dailey