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Ace up his sleeve

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Youth Vote 2008
September 30, 2008

Ace up his sleeve? Polls may underestimate Obama's youth support

HS.DanielBarbero.jpgThere are more than a few reasons why poll-watchers may be in for a November surprise.

The "Bradley effect," one that purports that black candidates over-perform in the polls only to suffer at the hands of shy racists on Election Day, has been a staple of pundits this election and a frequent warning against Obama's actual success. It's not surprising, and understandable given the sudden possibility of Obama as president.

But there may be an equally powerful hidden effect going a little less noticed -- one working in Obama's favor.

Everyone knows that Obama is drawing large amounts of support from minorities and youth. About 93 percent of black voters, 55 percent of Hispanic voters and 60 percent of youth voters support Obama according to recent Gallup polls. But there's a strong likelihood the scale to which these groups will be energized is being drastically underestimated.

Traditionally, these are groups are not hard-core voters -- with youth especially apathetic. Most Democratic strategists have focused on other, more conventional constituencies to win elections. And Obama's current near-tie with McCain may make these supporters look no more important than before.

But there are many reasons to think otherwise.

First, examine the young crowd, and the college-student vanguard. There's a reason that many call youngsters' devotion to Obama "cult-like." Something's up when kids are desperate to purchase Obama posters, the kind of thing that overeager activists usually push on uncaring students, soon to be lost between the futon and the pizza boxes. But the efforts of organizers and activists seem to have worked -- youth vote numbers spiked in the primary contests this year, making up 17 percent of voters as opposed to 9 percent of 2000 primary voters, and there's no reason to think that they took time for the primaries but won't show up for the real deal.

As for minority voters, the rumor about Hispanics resenting Obama seems to have been groundless, and Obama has inherited their support with Hillary Clinton's withdrawal, albeit with the help of nasty ads such as one recent TV ad which -- shielded from media scrutiny by its Spanish narration -- talked of "Republican trickery" and falsely linked McCain and Rush Limbaugh. Not exactly a display of virtuous post-partisanship, but effective all the same.

Obama's pull on Hispanic voters is near to, and will probably settle at, a number close to Kerry's 58 percent in 2004. But the continuing growth in those Hispanic populations may contribute to his striking chances at the usually red states of Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico.

Black voters, as in most recent elections, appear to be overwhelmingly lined up behind the Democratic candidate. This time, however, there are indications that the traditionally average turnout of this group could change drastically. The simple possibility of electing the first president of color should make that clear. By some estimates, at the beginning of 2008, there remained 8 million potential, unregistered black voters. With the Obama campaign running intense registration drives in inner cities, the percentage will probably decline, much to Barack's benefit.

All of this support is well and good, but there are several reasons that it may still be hidden from the polls.

One of the key reasons is pollsters' reliance on land-lines to call potential voters; massive numbers of students use only cell phones and are therefore invisible to nearly all polls. Questions that disqualify those who haven't voted in 2006 or 2004, often employed to get at likely voters, ignores the very real surge in interest among these groups in the Obama campaign.

So when you see John and Barack coming out even, remember that the senator from Illinois may have a few extra cards up his sleeve.

Daniel Barbero writes opinions for The Harvard Crimson and is a sophomore at Harvard University.
Categories: Opinion

Tags: Barack Obama, minorities, polls, youth vote
Posted by Steve Veres on September 30, 2008 5:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Re: Pollsters and cell phones: I've been thinking about this for a while. So I did an information survey at a local Obama event and, of 25 people 35 and under, and 90% used a cell phone as their primary phone.
Posted on October 1, 2008 11:01 AM by Carolyn Schuk, VoIP Princess | Reply
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