YOUNG people turn up in droves at Barack Obama’s rallies, particularly those held on university campuses. The big question still remaining is: will they turn up at the polls on Tuesday?
The impact of the youth vote in the Obama era has been much speculated upon before the election.
There is little doubt that the youth vote helped give Senator Obama his first and possibly most important win against Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucuses in the primaries. They turned up in droves to match the much older, traditional caucus-goer.
The Obama campaign is counting on repeating the effort nationally through a combination of voter registration efforts (now concluded), "Get Out the Vote" campaigns on Facebook and SMS, campus operations and sheer inspiration.
"In many ways, our fate is in their hands," Senator Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, said on a recent conference call with reporters.
Pundits have speculated that the youth vote might be the hidden factor that will deliver a landslide to Senator Obama. Polls show that in the 18-to-29 age group, he is favoured two to one.
Arguments continue to rage about whether young people are properly represented in poll samples because they tend to rely on mobile phones rather than landlines, which pollsters call more often. And, by definition, they will have registered more recently, which means their names do not appear on the electoral rolls the pollsters use to test the waters.
A number of pollsters claim to have made adjustments to their sampling methods to pick up households that are mobile phone-only. But will young people turn up in larger numbers than in previous years, in which they proved to be laggards compared to older folk?
According to a report issued on Friday by Gallup, its polling in October found little evidence of an impending surge in youth voter turnout compared to 2004 levels, when 18- to 29-year-olds constituted 13 per cent of all voters.
The voter registration efforts have increased the enrolment rates for 18 to 29-year-olds so that 86 per cent are now on the rolls, compared to 83 per cent in 2006. But this is still much lower than those aged 30 to 49 (92 per cent) or those aged 50 to 64 (97 per cent).
On the two questions that Gallup asks to indicate likelihood of voting, only 78 per cent of young people said they had been paying close attention to the election (compared to 94 per cent for people in their 50s); while only 78 per cent rated themselves a 9 or a 10 to turn out to vote (compared to 92 per cent for 50- to 64 year-olds).
As a result of this research, Gallup weights the youth vote as 12 per cent of its sample, and even on its expanded view of who might vote, which it has adopted this year to try and compensate for the much higher levels of enthusiasm, it still only puts the youth vote at 14 per cent of the total.
Gallup concluded that the youth turnout would be about the same proportion as 2004 because voters in every age bracket will turn out in greater numbers. There are other worrying signs, too, in early voting. For the first time in Florida, voters under 35 outnumber those over 64.
But their turnout so far in early voting has been somewhat underwhelming. As polls continue to indicate that Senator Obama is well ahead, there are fears that some people will just stay home, experts said.