Speculation runs rampant as we approach the final hours until the Iowa caucuses.
While campaigns spin their respective cases, candidates crisscross the state, volunteers canvass neighborhoods in sub-zero temperatures, and commercials flood the airwaves in an attempt to pick up the final few votes that might make the difference in what most believe to be a statistical dead heat between Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards.
While no one, of course, can predict the actual outcome until the results are reported, there are some pretty suggestive signs---a bit less obvious than Mike Huckabee's "Christmas cross," perhaps, but significant nonetheless---for those who look a bit beneath the surface.
I have been arguing for over a year that most polls and pundits are either missing or dismissing what will be the deciding factor in this election: the youth vote.
Most young voters are never called by pollsters. We have cell phones, not land lines; we are first-time voters; we are independents turned democrats. Therefore, we are mostly unrepresented by the polls and invisible to the news media. We are the voting bloc that is consistently written off. We won't show up. We are apathetic. We'll be watching football. This is the way it has been in recent history, and this is the way it will always be. So the argument goes.
Yet if this is the conventional wisdom, the American establishment is in for a rude awakening on January 3 when the headlines go worldwide that a former community organizer, an African American with an unusual name and the most improbable of stories, is on his way to becoming the next president of the United States.
The reality for those paying attention is that Barack Obama has inspired a movement among young people that is broad, deep, and real. For the past year, we have been organizing, blogging, donating, recruiting, conferencing, mobilizing. The Obama campaign has empowered us and we have responded in an unprecedented way.
The respected and historically accurate Des Moines Register confirmed this reality in its most recent poll, when it was found that an overwhelming 56% of young people ages 18-34 are supporting Senator Obama, compared to just 11% for Hillary Clinton and 16% for John Edwards. These numbers, it should be noted, are among "likely caucusgoers."
This evidence confirms what those of us on the ground have been seeing for the past year: hundreds of thousands of previously turned off young people suddenly seriously involved in a political campaign for the first time. This movement, unlike any political campaign since the excitement and participation generated by Robert F. Kennedy before his assassination in 1968, is described from its participants' own voices in a book I helped put together this past fall. While each story was unique, the theme was clear: Barack Obama resonates for our generation. His post-partisan, grassroots, idealistic, yet practical message makes sense to us. And most of us are more cynical towards politics than naïve. We grew up with the scandals and excesses of the Clinton years and the corruption and myopia of the Bush Administration. For us, Obama doesn't represent a savior; he represents hope.
So we have gone to work for a cause we believe in. We have donated from what little money we have; we have volunteered at the expense of our studies or jobs. We have been an active and crucial part of this movement every step of the way.
Is it likely after the countless hours we have put in that we will suddenly disappear on caucus night?
This is what the pundits would have people believe. This is the cliché that is heard endlessly on CNN and other mainstream media networks. Because it didn't work out for Howard Dean, it won't work out for Obama.
But if the Obama movement has proven anything, it is that it has gone far beyond Dean, Bill Clinton, or any other youth-appealing politician in recent history. It is a movement that has set record after record, from crowd sizes to donations to volunteers.
It is a movement that began in earnest when over 17,000 people braved the freezing cold weather in Springfield, Illinois to see a different kind of politician stand in front of the Old State Capitol Building and declare his unlikely run for the presidency.
It is a movement that grew a Facebook group of over 350,000 people within weeks. It is a movement that has generated more small donations than any campaign in history. It is a movement that has seen crowds in the tens of thousands in Texas, California, New York, and South Carolina.
It is a movement characterized not by passive gazing-on, but active participation. The Obama movement is organized, educated, and ready to be mobilized. In the oft-used chant of the campaign, it is "fired up and ready to go."
Over the past several months we have been overlooked, but beginning January 3 young supporters of Barack Obama are ready to send a long-anticipated message:
We're here. We count. And we will be the difference in Iowa and beyond.
Follow Joe Vogel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joevogel1