YouTube reflects political tech

Targeted as a demographic with changing attitudes and developing political allegiances, young people are driving campaign technology and the way presidential candidates debate.

Though historically the youngest voters have tuned out in smaller numbers than their older counterparts, USF political science professor Susan MacManus said that the college-age demographic is influencing the way politicians use technology.

“The younger generation is a more up-for-grabs age group,” MacManus said. “They are volunteering more than they have in the past and candidates are dabbling in new technologies.”

The 2008 presidential race has seen an increase in technological grassroots movements. Politicians and groups that support them use Myspace, Facebook and YouTube to promote their ideas and reach out to young voters.

Those who study politics call this “path-breaking,” MacManus said, adding that she has seen more political involvement on campus this year than in the past.

She had between 20 and 30 students volunteering at Wednesday’s YouTube debates in St. Petersburg, MacManus said.

The YouTube debates started as a way to reach young people, she said, and are a natural progression for technology.

Political science professor Janna Merrick said that her students are intrigued by this technology, but are sometimes overwhelmed by the number of candidates currently in the primaries. She said her younger students often don’t know whether they are Democrats or Republicans and don’t get involved until later in the election process.

“I’m looking for a lot of student interest when we get closer to the nominations,” she said. “Voter turnout is not usually as high for the primaries.”

President of the USF College Democrats Nic Zateslo said he is skeptical of the process used to choose the debate’s questions, however, and voiced concerns about the seriousness of the YouTube debates.

The College Democrats joined a bipartisan rally of about 400 people outside the Mahaffey Theater on Wednesday in protest of what activists called a “broken system.”

Zateslo said that the YouTube debates’ aim is to take advantage of the illusion that people are involved in the political process by asking questions via the streaming video Web site.

“It takes advantage of people in general because it makes people think that they choose the questions,” he said. “The questions are still thoroughly vetted by the corporate media, and they get so many questions they can choose whatever they want.”

Merrick said she didn’t find any of the candidates’ answers surprising, but did say the questions were slightly different from those of the traditional debate format.

“There was a wider range of issues, in terms of topics,” she said. “Sometimes the questions were more simplistic, not very policy-oriented.”

MacManus also said there is a danger in mixing politics with entertainment at the presidential level, but that the YouTube debates serve as a good example of effectively using new technologies.

“(Mixing politics and entertainment) can lead to an inability to sort out fact and fiction and ‘gotcha’ politics,” she said. “On the other hand, this is a good example of grassroots politics.”