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First-time voters push Obama in

by Archives November 11, 2008

Young voters, along with African-Americans and Hispanics put Barack Obama over the top in last Tuesday’s American election.
“We defiantly saw an increase in young people voting,” said Bruce Hicks, a political science professor at Concordia and associate at the Canada Research Chair in electoral studies.
“But it’s a relative thing. American elections traditionally have a much lower turnout than Canadian elections,” he said. “So they rose with this historic turnout to 64 per cent and we were at a below average turnout at 59 per cent, so all things are relative.”
In addition to young people, Obama also drew “a lager number of African-Americans and Hispanics; groups that have been traditionally, and recently, not participating.”
Sixty-six per cent of people under 30, 95 per cent of African-Americans, and 66 per cent of Hispanics voted for Obama.
Hicks said the fact that voter turnout increased is expected in an election like this. “We know that voting turnout goes up in a hotly contested race.”
While it’s too early to tell if this increase in turnout will translate to future American elections, he said people who vote early in their adult life tend to vote in future elections.
“To be optimistic, this may have an effect in the same way that people came of age during the 1960s participate more than the generation Xers do. That may be the new generation of Barack Obamians will continue to participate as they go through life,” said Hicks. “The pessimistic view is that this is a one-off election and because it was so historic and hotly contested and you had for the first time an African American running.”
He said future voter turnout might also be affected by how Obama governs. “Change is a very amorphous commitment, so some of it may have to do with why people voted, how their expectations are realized over the next four to eight years.”
But he said negative feelings towards current president George W. Bush were probably not behind the higher voter turnout.
“Negative attitudes and views dissuade people from voting, and dissuade people from voting for particular parties, they don’t necessarily engage citizenry,” he said. “For example, negative campaigning doesn’t usually result in people switching towards the party that maligned the other party, it actually just convinces a party’s supporters to stay home and not participate.”

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