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February 6th, 2008
06:49 PM ET

"Generation O" Rocks the Vote

Months ago I was forwarded an e-mail invitation to a "Generation O" event.  Upon reading it I  discovered that "Generation O" was not some new demographic term coined by sociologists or advertisers to go along with the other cleverly named, one-letter generational labels they had already come up with – X and Y.

"Generation O" was the name of a series of fundraising and networking events hosted nationwide in support of Sen. Barack Obama.  These fundraisers targeted a younger audience, relying on what the Obama camp termed "friendraising" as opposed to fundraising.  On the face of it, this talk of "Generation O" and "friendraising" may sound like nothing more than a clever gimmick that proves that the Obama campaign has some savvy marketing strategists on the payroll and not a whole lot more.  But the results from Super Tuesday tell a different story.

It has been well documented that there's a generational divide among the supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama.  While Clinton has consistently dominated among older voters, particularly those ages 60 and above, Obama has led among younger voters, particularly those 30 and under.

Now any political consultant worth his (or her) salt would tell a candidate not to hitch their hopes of being elected to office to the votes of young people because you can’t be sure they will actually show up.  Their grandparents, on the other hand, always show up.  But that bit of traditional campaign wisdom has been turned on its head this election cycle.

"Generation O" voters have not only shown up but shown up big for Obama in key races.   They proved crucial to his first big win in Iowa and they are also being credited with helping him pull off one of his biggest wins and upsets last night.   In Connecticut, which was supposed to be a part of Clinton’s tri-state sweep, young voters helped put Obama over the top.  He won them 58% to Clinton’s 39%.

So what explains this great divide?  And why is it that Barack Obama appears to have energized this group unlike no candidate in recent memory?Well there is the obvious generational difference between candidates Clinton and Obama.  As I noted during a recent interview (to the great horror of the host on whose show I was appearing), there has been a Bush or a Clinton in the White House since I was in elementary school, a thought that some young people simply find disturbingly monarchy-esque. There is also Obama’s unique racial and ethnic makeup.  Generation Y has been described as one of the most ethnically diverse our country has ever known, with more members likely to identify themselves as multi-racial than previous generations.  And then there is the "c" word: change. 

As one registered Independent friend of mine in his fourties noted, for many older Americans "change" sounds like a vague, unknown prospect, and therefore one they have no interest in pursuing.  "They may not be sure what it means," he said, "but they know they aren’t for it."  For many younger people, the exact opposite is true.

But perhaps "Generation O" simply believes that they have found a candidate who connects with them, speaks to them and speaks for them in a way that the other candidates – and yes, the older candidates –in this election do not.After all, this thinking helped elect a generational "change" candidate to the White House in 1992.  He was the very first "Rock the Vote" candidate and his name was Bill Clinton.– Keli Goff, Political Commentator

Editor's note: Keli is the author of the forthcoming book "Party Crashing: How the Hip-Hop Generation Declared Political Independence."  She'll join Anderson to talk about her views tonight on 360 at 10p ET.

 


Filed under: Barack Obama • Hillary Clinton • Raw Politics
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