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UW Election Eye 2012

Campaign 2012 through the eyes of UW faculty and students

May 4, 2012 at 7:00 AM

Hooking the youth vote: does being cool matter?

As presidential campaigns prepare for November, attracting young voters is a priority. Is being a “cool” candidate the key to attracting this stereotypically apathetic crowd?

SEATTLE — Last week, as Lindsey Meeks reported here on UW Election Eye, the Obama campaign made it clear that reaching young voters is playing as significant a role in the 2012 campaign as it was in 2008. During a two-day college campus tour, President Barack Obama appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to “slow jam” the news. The topic was the potential interest rate increase for federal student loans. On the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, along with Fallon and The Roots, President Obama made it clear that he disagreed with the increase when he said, “Now is not the time to make school more expensive.”

The video has made the rounds on social networks; on Late Night’s Facebook page alone, it has been shared 1,961 times with 5,787 “likes.” On the show’s YouTube channel, the slow jam has over 5 million views. The campaign’s own YouTube garners plenty of views as well, with one recent video (“The Road We’ve Traveled”) surpassing the 2 million point.

Partnering with a young comedian and voicing his opinion on a topic that strikes a chord with the under-30 voter is a clear strategy to connect with this demographic. But not everyone sees humor as the best approach, especially as recent grads and current college students face daunting job prospects.

Eric Fehrnstrom, senior adviser to Mitt Romney, found the president’s appearance to be “off key.” The topic of student loan debt is not “something to slow jam about or make light of it,” Fehrstrom explained.

In an April 26th press release, Romney Campaign Spokesperson Amanda Henneberg highlighted the lack of enthusiasm for President Obama regardless of his college campus visits. Her remarks were preceded by an earlier release and a Romney campaign video illustrating what recent graduates are facing in the current economy. The video and statement include Bureau of Labor Statistics (a 16.4% youth unemployment rate) and a call to action. The “Youth & The Obama Economy” video has 8,407 views.

While the state of the economy for recent grads is no laughing matter, it is unclear if the Romney campaign will make an effort to engage young voters in a meaningful way. Beyond agreeing with the president that Congress should renew the low-interest rate for federal student loans, Romney has yet to produce anything with the virality of Obama’s “slow jam.”

But not all conservatives are sitting out of the YouTube game.

Within 48 hours of Obama’s appearance on Late Night, a conservative political action committee, American Crossroads, posted the video below criticizing the president’s celebrity status and his “cool” factor. The video introduces Obama as “the biggest celebrity in the world” and “one cool president,” highlighting video clips and photos of the president looking cool — including moments with Jimmy Fallon. These images are juxtaposed with black and white video of struggling young adults and a series of economic statistics. After listing the poor job prospects for recent graduates, the percentage moving back in with parents and the growing student loan debt, the viewer is left with a final question: “After 4 years of a celebrity president is your life any better?”

American Crossroad’s “Cool” video has over 400,000 views, a sizable audience for a web-exclusive piece. Regardless of which party or candidate gets the most YouTube views, the discussion of being cool signals a theme for the 2012 race. Whether that means more comedy and  invitations to dinner with George Clooney from Obama (the Obama campaign April contest) or continued messaging from conservatives highlighting the president’s celebrity as a lack of substance, “cool” will continue to be a part of the conversation.

It isn’t called the popular vote for nothing.

Comments | More in National | Topics: Barack Obama, Campaign 2012, Jimmy Fallon

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