A new democratic spirit

The proportion of young people and first-time voters has surged. Much of that surge has benefited Obama -- but all of it has benefited the rest of us.


Salon Staff
January 11, 2008 5:47AM (UTC)

At Concord's Ward 10 Tuesday night, almost 60 percent of registered voters had already turned out by 5 pm, and cars were bumper to bumper getting into the parking lot, the after-work crowd waiting to get in. "Turnout is great," said Genevieve Van Beaver, official chair of the voter checklist for this polling place at Broken Ground Elementary School. The big news for Van Beaver was the turnout of first-time young voters -- but interestingly, there wasn't any kind of Barack Obama presence at the polling place. "The people who tell us who they're supporting, and they don't have to, they're a fair mix of each party, each candidate, and a lot of independents." Van Beaver talked about parents coming in to bring their kids to register and vote. "It's really multigenerational, and that's incredibly hopeful," Van Beaver said.

In the end, Obama lost to Hillary Clinton, but as in Iowa, voter turnout was amazing. I've been covering presidential elections since 1984 (I was a child reporter!), the year of Jesse Jackson and Geraldine Ferraro, of huge and expensive voter-registration and turnout efforts, from the Women's Vote Project to the NAACP's Operation Big Vote. Every four years since then, someone promises to increase turnout among youth, minorities, women, low-income Americans, and somehow it never happens in any significant way. This year it has, so far, and it's extraordinary. The proportion of young people and first-time voters has surged in Iowa and, according to pollsters, in New Hampshire. Much of that surge has benefited Obama -- but all of it has benefited democracy. I'll be trying to understand it all better in the days and weeks to come.

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