Young voters flex political muscle
Observers say such interest has surged in Hawaii in recent years
ELECTION '08: HAWAII'S NEW POLITICS
First of three parts
>> More local campaigns beef up 'Net presence
STORY SUMMARY »
Hawaii's campaign season kicks off Tuesday, the last day to file to run for office in 2008 -- a year when campaigners and voters will find a new political landscape.
Starting today in a three-day series, the Star-Bulletin's Capitol bureau examines that changing landscape, from an Internet-savvy generation seeking to make a difference to once-mighty political blocs adapting to remain relevant.
The series begins on Page A8 today with the scramble to lure young voters, and the politician's immediate need to embrace new technology. In the fast-evolving Internet universe, politicians no longer can be satisfied with a simple campaign Web page. To compete, candidates are turning to aggressive online donation drives, social networking, video posting and blogs. The new Internet reality even has longtime politician U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie "Twittering."
The series continues:
» Tomorrow: Major shifts emerge in local voter demographics. Some ethnic groups are finding new political power, while others see their clout waning.
» Tuesday: Labor unions still hold sway with Hawaii politicians, but the power has shifted from private- to public-worker unions.
FULL STORY »
They rallied, they registered and now they're ready to prove the youth vote matters this year.
As the Internet emerges as a critical tool in campaigning, local politicians have started putting more resources into their Web sites. Here are some examples of the more in-depth and interactive sites:
» U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie incorporates Twitter and blogging into his site, http://neilabercrombie.ning.com
» Ted Hong posts, Republican candidate for the state Senate, posts video updates and allows supporters to donate online. http://electtedhawaii.com
» Mayor Mufi Hannemann links his "virtual headquarters" to his social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, and posted a video of him singing. http://votemufi.com
» A nonpartisan local group aims to engage young voters by allowing people to personalize a page, which will link them to their elected officials, candidates, news and government sites. They expect to launch the site on Aug. 8. http://inspirepolitics.com
» The presumptive presidential candidates, Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain, have become leaders of using the Internet in campaigning: www.barackobama.com www.johnmccain.com
For more information and statistics on young voters, visit the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, a nonpartisan research center at the University of Maryland: www.civicyouth.org
In Hawaii, where big unions and older generations typically held the power and attention of politicians, Generation Y has stepped up as the group of voters to capture -- and possibly the one to make the difference in this year's presidential elections.
"This year, we believe in the messages for change and hope," said Scott Alonso, 22, a recent graduate of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. "That appeals to people our age because we're tired of what the status quo has offered. We've had enough. There is a tidal wave of activism that is ready to explode."
Nationally, young voters between the ages of 18 to 34, also called Generation Y, Millennials and Echo Boomers, have come out in record numbers at presidential caucuses as Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama fight to win the youth vote.
Locally, there aren't definitive, historical numbers of the registered voters broken down by age, but anecdotally, longtime political observers say the interest has surged among Hawaii's young voters.
"The youth vote is demonstratively different this year," said U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who has been in local politics for 40 years and is a strong Obama supporter. "Obama made the youth vote something to be reckoned with this year."
Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, a nonpartisan research center at the University of Maryland , said the youth vote has increased over the last several years, in 2004 and 2006, and the trend is expected to follow into this year's general election.
According to Levine, turnout rose by 11 percentage points in 2004 for voters ages 18 to 24. In the 2008 primaries, youth turnout almost doubled compared to 2000, the best comparison year.
"Young people are idealistic," Levine wrote in an e-mail to the Star-Bulletin. "They volunteer at higher rates than their parents did. This idealism gives them an interest in addressing social issues. The candidates -- especially Obama, but not only Obama -- are making the case that voting is a good way to address issues."
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
The locally created, nonpartisan Web site Inspirepolitics.com aims to connect youths with politics and government. Those involved with the site include, in front, Rep. Kymberly Pine, left; Rep. Della Au Bellati; Alison Kunishige Cheng; Pamela Fong; executive editor Liann Ebesugawa; professor Patricia Halagao; and in back, executive director A.J. Halagao, left; Keoki Leong; Colbert Matsumoto; Randy Baldemor; and Rebecca Dayhuff.
Adam Deguire, the 24-year-old executive director of the Hawaii Republican Party , first became interested in politics after the Sept. 11 attacks when he was a political science and history student at the University of Arizona.
"When everyone else was watching MTV, I would be in my dorm room watching Fox News," Deguire said. "I think there is going to be a higher turnout than usual in the youth vote this year. The issues are starting to resonate with the younger voters. You're starting to see kids use different avenues for their political news."
The Internet has emerged this year as one of the most effective way to communicate with young voters. Viewers have turned to YouTube to watch clips and speeches of candidates. The younger generation turns to social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, where there has been an explosion of applications and groups dedicated to politics.
According to a June report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, more Americans are using the Internet for unfiltered campaign information -- such as speech transcripts and debate footage -- rather than relying on the mainstream media. Among the study's findings, it found that 10 percent of adults used social networking sites for political-related purposes, including "friend-ing" a candidate or joining a political group.
The report also found that online fundraising is up to 6 percent versus 2 percent in 2004. Zachary Ellison, a 21-year-old UH student , became the millionth donor of Obama's presidential campaign when he gave $25 online in February. In June alone, Obama raised $54 million with the average donation at $68, according to his Web site, which asks, "Can you make a donation of $25 now?"
"He makes us feel like we're a part of the process," said R. Leilani Baldevia, who served as the state coordinator for students in Obama's Hawaii campaign . "But it still all comes down to the candidate. The Internet existed four, eight years ago. It's been enhanced, but there's an increase in excitement because of the candidate himself."
Baldevia created the Facebook group, "Students for Barack Obama -- Hawaii," after she noticed that other states had similar groups. Perhaps the most popular politically related Hawaii Facebook group is "Barack Obama and I both went to Punahou" with more than 1,200 members. In contrast, there aren't any prominent Hawaii-based McCain groups on Facebook.
"It's been challenging to organize college-aged Republicans," said Travis Mount , who was head of the College Republicans at Hawaii Pacific University this past academic year. "We find Facebook increasingly useful. Sometimes it's a little less intrusive than a phone call or e-mail."
Recognizing that the Internet has become an integral part of campaigning, particularly reaching out to younger voters, a nonpartisan local group is planning to launch a Web site on Aug. 8 called "Inspire Politics." The Web site will be personalized to each person, linking them to their elected officials and national and local news.
A.J. Halagao, one of the group's leaders , said they wanted to help raise the youth turnout this year.
"We want to engage young voters, and we had to go to a platform that they were familiar with," said Halagao, who is also Mayor Mufi Hannemann's re-election campaign coordinator.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Above, Adam Deguire, the 24-year-old executive director of the Hawaii Republican Party , first became interested in politics after the Sept. 11 attacks when he was a political science and history student at the University of Arizona. At left, Ria Baldevia is heading up the student campaign for Barack Obama. She frequents local Starbucks, where she does her work using her laptop.
Before the Internet, local campaigns relied heavily on "friend-to-friend" cards, which were especially popular during former Gov. George Ariyoshi's time in the 1970s and '80s, to galvanize support. Supporters would go into the party or campaign headquarters with a list of their friends' contact information, write a personal message endorsing the candidate and mail it off.
"Some may be done today, but that seems like the rather arcane way to talking to people," said Chuck Freedman, 61, a longtime Democratic operative in local and national elections and former Gov. John Waihee's communication director . "It has been replaced by the computers. The younger generation really responds to it like it's a part of their lives. Us older folks have kind of come around to it."
During the 1980s and '90s, Levine said that few campaigns put real resources into the youth vote, which partly explains the reason turnout was so low then. This time, he noted, campaigns are investing more with youth directors and are spending more time on college campuses.
In Hawaii, where voter turnout has historically remained one of the lowest in the country, the question remains: Will they come out and vote?
"Definitely," said Tyler Dos Santos-Tam , a 20-year-old Yale University student working on Hannemann's campaign. "I think a lot of people my age have been upset with a lot of the decisions made in the last couple of years. We were too young to vote before. Now that we have the chance, we're taking advantage of it."