Candidates use Internet to reach younger constituents

American politics have changed, and today’s national candidates are fighting to reach potential voters through every possible medium.

Internet communities such as YouTube, MySpace and Facebook seem to play major roles in candidates’ introductions to young voters.

MySpace has dedicated a section of its site to profiles of politicians hoping to get in touch with today’s computer-savvy voters. To date, 10 presidential hopefuls, including Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton and John McCain, have registered pages on MySpace.

This innovative pipeline to voters could revolutionize the course of American politics, connecting candidates to one of the least politically interested segment of voters in U.S. history. With only 24 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 voting in the 2006 midterm election, candidates say they are hoping the Internet will be the tool to raise awareness to the relevance of politics in the upcoming presidential elections.

“Many of the weaknesses that political campaigns possess are being exposed by technology,” said Ramon Alexander, a coordinator of elections in Florida during the recent governor’s race.

In the past year, several candidates have met their political deaths because of moments captured and featured on Web sites like these.

Former Virginia Sen. George Allen, once considered a viable GOP presidential candidate, was doomed when a racially insensitive remark he made about American Indians transformed him from darling of the party into a tarnished public figure.

Along with the benefits of cyberspace’s reach, Alexander said, come increased levels of propaganda, miscommunication and misinformation. This wave of unbridled access has forced some candidates to pay closer attention to attempts to both promote and attack them via the Internet.

“This means the candidates don’t have as much control of the images that are connected to them,” said Robert Jackson, professor of political science, political participation and voting behavior at Florida State University.

Negative ads against Obama and Clinton posted on YouTube this week were among the most-watched videos on the site.

Although both candidates denied any responsibility for the ads, the messages were widely heard and absorbed by American voters.Jackson said this revolution in politics forces those running for office to decide whether to avoid online confrontation or to confront such negative press head-on.

Regardless of these recent efforts to expand the political playing field, many people believe the burden will ultimately fall on the passion and understanding of young voters at the polls.

“Hopefully (these outlets) will be able to bridge the cultural gap with candidates,” said Adeleke Omitowoju, a 23-year-old fifth-year business administration student from Alpharetta, Ga. “But last time the campaigns and even P. Diddy’s ‘Vote or Die’ couldn’t rally the young vote. So it’s up to us in the end.”