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Obama Has Advantages in Battleground State of Michigan

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There are three pieces of information about the presidential race in Michigan that, taken as a whole, point to very good news for the Obama campaign.

1. The registration of young people is huge and growing;

2. The percentage of young people who voted in the primary in Michigan was much larger than usual this year, even though Senator Obama was not on the ticket;

3. The Obama campaign's Internet presence dwarfs that of the McCain campaign. This and Obama's perception among most young people that he is "cool" are motivating factors for the youth vote.

Voter Registration of Young People

An example of the extent of voter registration success among the under-30 age group is campus Democrats in Ann Arbor report they have registered over 12,000 students from the University of Michigan. An article in the Detroit Free Press this week indicates they are hardly finished.

The Michigan State University sophomore wants Democrat Barack Obama to become the next president. So she spends hours each day trolling the streets and dorms of East Lansing to find the next potential voter, still unregistered, who might push Obama over the top.

The Obama campaign intern is among many supporters trying to help register 150,000 new voters by the state's October 6th deadline.

By contrast, the Republican Party and the campaign for its nominee, John McCain, are putting more effort into identifying registered voters and making sure they get their message and vote, said Bill Nowling, a GOP spokesman.

As this shows, the Obama campaign is focusing on young voters and the McCain campaign is not. And for good reason, as McCain has very little appeal among the youth voter demographic.

Voter Turnout Among Young People

Voter turnout among voters under 30 is typically low. Pathetically low, actually, and often less than 50%. However, young voters turned out in 2004 at levels nearly 25% higher than in 2000. Looking at the Michigan primaries, where voting is already notoriously low, young people are voting in increasingly high numbers with each election. In fact, participation by this group nearly doubled, from 9% to 17%, from 2000 to 2008, even with several candidates not appearing on the ballot. With the additional focus on young voters by the Obama campaign, their turnout this November is expected to be considerably higher.

Internet Presence of Obama vs. McCain

There is no question that the Obama campaign has a much stronger Internet presence than the McCain campaign.

"I think it's fair to say that no other candidate has even come close to the online efforts of the Obama campaign," says Andrew Lipsman, senior analyst at comScore, the digital marketing research firm that released the report.

Overall, the comparison showed a "widening gap between the two campaigns," says Lipsman. "The Obama site had a lot more visitors, much heavier display advertising and more Web searches."

Obama has active groups on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, Digg, Eventful, LinkedIn, BlackPlanet, Faithbase, Eons, Glee, MiGente, MyBatanga and AsianAve. My daughter, a junior at Michigan State University, has told me "Obama is everywhere." Young people believe Obama is "cool" and are excited about him. The flooding of the Internet with his message is undoubtedly making a difference. Groups such as Rock the Vote and the outspokenness of celebrities and music artists are also helping with the youth vote. College-aged students are using the Internet to share their own political views in increasing numbers as a result of the proliferation of online social networks. From MLive:

Obama's 1.3 million "friends" wins him the virtual popularity contest over McCain's 191,300 online supporters.

[Assistant professor of communication at the University of Michigan-Flint Marcus] Paroske believes this wired generation may feel more directly involved with the election process through media they create themselves on such outlets as Facebook, which started in 2004.

"You can't overestimate the importance of that particular kind of approach to engaging young people," he said. "The difference here is the arguments are not coming from a campaign or candidates. They are coming from your peers.

These three factors are likely to be keys to a Barack Obama victory in Michigan this November. However, the result is not likely to be reflected in the pre-election polls, since newly registered voters are generally not included in polls and polls typically don't include cell phones, which younger people use more than land lines. If 2008 is the year that Democrats finally get young voters engaged, excited and energized enough to get out to the polls, it could transform the election. The Obama campaign is poised with a massive Get Out the Vote push leading up to election day. If the numbers of young people who respond are high enough, an Obama win in Michigan will be decisive.