Media awakens young voters

How the Internet has ‘forever transformed politics’

Samaa Khan, ArtSci ’08
Samaa Khan, ArtSci ’08

Last Tuesday was a big day for our neighbours. After a mid-term election that saw the Democrats rest control of the Senate and House of Representatives away from the Republicans, President George W. Bush said his party took a “thumpin’.”

During the weeks leading up to the election, there was a frenzy of bloggers and talk show hosts discussing the parties, the platforms and the expected outcomes. With the Democrats in control of both houses for the first time since 1994, that lively discussion isn’t expected to end anytime soon.

Political pundits across the globe have arrived at the same conclusion: these election results are attributed to America’s policies in the Iraq war, corruption in Congress and a general disapproval of the Bush administration.

Although such inferences are virtually indisputable, there was another dimension to these elections, the magnitude of which politicians have now begun to realize: technology and the new media.

We’re all aware that the Internet has forever transformed politics, bye many of us have yet to recognize that the ever-changing face of technology, and its effects in terms of access to knowledge, is playing an increasingly significant role in the election system.

More specifically, technology is bridging the gap between the “men in suits” of the political sphere and today’s younger generation. Young Americans who were once detached from the world of politics now better understand the political system, and they educate themselves about the relevant issues. This year’s mid-term election brought out a record number of young voters—the highest turnout of youth in several decades according to author Peter Levine —a shift largely credited to a new culture of internet and technology use that has made political information more accessible than ever before.

Take popular political satirists like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central. Their programs, among other late night talk shows, featured continuous coverage of the election campaigns. According to the Comedy Central website, Stewart and Colbert capture a nightly audience of 1.4 million, 90 per cent of whom are under the age of 30.

The two comedians don’t identify themselves as pro-democrat, but their material is primarily critical of the Bush administration. Not surprisingly, the majority of young voters this year voted Democrat. (Mind you, critics of the Democrats are also amply available, and most major news networks like Fox News and CNN have an obvious conservative slant. These situations, however, failed to target the issues facing the younger population.)

Clips from Comedy Central are also easily accessible on the Internet, and are viewed repeatedly on websites like YouTube and Google Video. These sites are visited countless times daily, predominantly by young users, and have added a new dimension to political satire. For young voters, these videos are the equivalent to political cartoons.

Howard Dean, Democratic national committee chairman, acknowledged The Daily Show last week when he said "Thank you Jon Stewart, and thanks to your audiences, ‘cause you guys did it for us!"

Michael Ordona of the LA Times even named Colbert the king of election night. He wrote, "The biggest winner this election season has risen from the parted waters—and it's not Nancy Pelosi. It's Stephen Colbert ... Every incumbent candidate he interviewed in his notorious 'Better Know a District' segment was re-elected.”

Similarly, technology’s impact on politics can also be seen in the rise of the blog culture, which allowed for increased expression and political debate; campaign issues and election-related topics were even seen creeping up on Facebook.

There’s no doubt that these blogger websites and social networks are more popular among youth than any other segment of the population.

A study earlier this year in the Sage Publications Journal said The Daily Show and similar programs had a negative impact on the political views of young Americans, arguing that they aroused cynicism and consequently decreased civic involvement.

On the contrary, the results of this mid-term election demonstrate that Stewart, Colbert and the like may have actually improved voter turnout and even helped to inform the electorate.

In analyzing the closest of the races, we see that the Republicans only lost by a few thousand votes in Montana and Virginia. Somewhere in those two states quite possibly a few thousand young people were watching The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, or tuned in on YouTube.

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