Elections

Young voters eager to make a difference

Mercer Island High School seniors, from left, Nick Harrington, Luke Owens, Orlaith Duggan and Lauren Ottinger will be voting in their first presidential election. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
Mercer Island High School seniors, from left, Nick Harrington, Luke Owens, Orlaith Duggan and Lauren Ottinger will be voting in their first presidential election.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

The youth vote counts. This platitude rings truer than ever in the 2008 presidential election. According to nationwide surveys, the number of young voters (defined as 18- to 25-year-olds) in this year’s election is twice that of 2004. Youth-geared organizations such as Rock the Vote, League of Young Voters and YouthVote U.S.A. are also showing record popularity among America’s registered teenagers and 20-somethings.

The Internet has enabled political candidates to reach youth through massively popular Web sites such as Facebook and YouTube. Not only are young voters exposed to political content via these sites, but the technology allows them to comment, discuss and actively participate in political campaigns online. In turn, candidates are making a point to use the Internet to their advantage.

But technology cannot take all the credit. Parents, educators and the mass media have also augmented young interest in this year’s campaign.

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama, in particular, demonstrates “youth appeal.” Indeed, it has been a staple of his campaign. The Illinois senator famously skipped a 2007 candidate forum in Iowa, sponsored by the AARP, to attend a hip-hop event starring Usher.

But Republican candidate Sen. John McCain has taken similar strides. Last summer, McCain invited MTV aboard his campaign bus for an episode of the popular TV show “Cribs.”

Mercer Island youth — the handful of high schoolers old enough to vote on Nov. 4 — are as eager to vote as many of their American peers. Last week, the Reporter met with four Mercer Island High School students registered for this year’s election to discuss what it means to be 18 and have the power to vote.

Question: What do you think about the responsibility that comes along with voting, especially in this year’s election?

“I’m definitely excited. A lot of people might not consider my vote as big a deal, but all the same, it’s a big thing. People being enthusiastic about this particular election is fantastic. I watch every debate and, in my free time, I’ll occasionally watch CNN or Fox News to understand what’s going on.”

Nick Harrington, MIHS senior

“I heard that only 20 percent of [youth voters] actually vote, so it’s pretty important to me.”

Orlaith Duggan, MIHS senior

“I think it’s huge and really important for everybody to get out and vote if you can. We’re definitely talking about it at school and at home. It’s a big deal.”

Lauren Ottinger, MIHS senior

Question: What are your main sources? TV, newspapers, online sites such as YouTube and Facebook?

“It’s such a monumental election this year; there’s information everywhere. You can find it on TV or on Youtube. You can watch the debates or even SNL — you know, the weekend update [laughs].”

Ottinger

“I hate negative ads. They horrify me. And they’re always going to be from both sides, which is a shame. But the impact of negative ads is so big that it can change the minds of all independent voters. How long did they spend in the last presidential debate — like 20 minutes, talking about negative ads? I think this is really sad.”

Harrington

Question: What about your political influences? Do they come from your parents, the media or school?

“My teachers, Dino Annest and Curtis Johnston, have probably been the most active in sharing opinions on the candidates. We talk about it a lot in class.”

Luke Owens, MIHS senior

“My parents. They’re both Democrats and so I was raised with these values. My dad and I will talk; for example, we’ve discussed Initiative 1000.”

Duggan

“I think something that has been very, very hard in the campaigns is to figure out what is realistic versus what the [candidates] are just telling you to get votes. The economy is definitely a huge deal right now. It’s the biggest thing at the moment, and I don’t think it’s something that can be turned around quickly. Do we need somebody who’s going to work on this? Yes. But when McCain says he can turn it around in four years and Obama says it will take 10, realistically, who do you follow?”

Ottinger

“I think it’s super unfortunate that the whole election is now going to be decided based on the recession we’re in. I think linking the whole election on that issue is really a shame because there are so many other issues. Before the recent recession started, the election was a lot closer than it is now.”

Harrington

Question: What about local politics? Do you know who you will vote for in the state and city campaigns?

“The gubernatorial race is a huge deal. I think many in Washington state will say that it’s time for a change.”

Harrington

“I actually interned for Sen. [Maria] Cantwell this summer, so it was really interesting to get an inside look at politics and how they endorse the different candidates. Through my research in that office is where I’d say I was most influenced.”

Ottinger

Question: What is the political energy like among your peers? Do you feel that young voters — or even teenagers who could vote if they were 18 — are actively following this year’s election?

“I think at Mercer Island High School, because we go to such a good school, people are more inclined to vote and voice their opinions.”

Ottinger

“I think that has some truth to it, but I also think that a lot of people — especially young people — don’t really care so much because they claim the issues don’t affect them directly, which I guess has some truth to it; but at the same time it affects, at the very least, your family, and so it affects you. ”

Harrington

All four MIHS students are taking AP Comparative Government with teachers Dino Annest and Curtis Johnston.

Harrington turned 18 just days before the election. He plans to vote for Republicans John McCain and Dino Rossi. Ottinger turned 18 earlier this fall and plans to vote for Democrats Barack Obama and Christine Gregoire, as will Duggan. Owens plans to vote for Obama. He did not share his choice for Washington state governor.

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