Obama looks to woo young voters

By WILL MENDELSON, MEDILL NEWS SERVICE, Written for UPI   |   Oct. 11, 2012 at 11:49 AM   |   0 comments

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 11 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama's plans to head to western states for fundraising with celebrity figures may come down to one factor: getting the college vote in the remaining four weeks before Election Day.

Is appearing in photographs with hip young celebs enough to drive young voters? Obama has had a steady stream of celebrity fundraising and endorsements for the past 6-8 months. Stars like Beyonce and Jay-Z have appeared in recent photographs in meetings with the president.

The star power, however, doesn't appear to showing in poll support.

A poll released Monday by the Pew Center indicated that Republican nominee Mitt Romney gained solid ground against Obama with younger voters, with 42 percent of respondents saying they supported Romney, up from 32 percent in September.

Another part of the allure of celebrities is that they bring in campaign cash. Obama should raise at least $10 million in the West before Election Day, said John Hudak, a fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, a center-left think tank in Washington.

But, Hudak says, it's not just about the money.

"What fundraising and appearances with celebrities can do is make up for the voter enthusiasm gap that is starting to rear its head," said Hudak.

Recent polling indicates that Republicans are more enthusiastic about the election than Democrats, which is a different scenario from 2008 when young people helped tip the election for Obama.

What celebrity appearances can do for Obama is help him connect again with college-age voters, the group polls suggest is showing the biggest drop-off from 2008 to 2012.

"Celebrity endorsements don't change minds; they change hearts and motivate people to turn out who might not have turned out to vote," said Hudak.

A request to Obama's campaign headquarters in Chicago to discuss recent celebrity fundraising went unanswered.

It's important to not discount the money Obama is expected to raise, said Wayne Fields, the Lynne Cooper Harvey Distinguished Professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis with an expertise in American political argument.

"It's still very much about raising the money at these fundraisers," said Fields.

Fields noted that, as a college professor, he hasn't seen as much interest in election this time around on college campuses.

"While celebrities have greater influence with the young vote, Obama still needs to be appearing on college campuses in Ohio, Iowa, Virginia and other swing states," said Fields.

Obama has been on one college campus in a swing state this week, appearing on Tuesday at Ohio State University and at the University of Miami in Florida on Thursday.

Similarly, Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, said that voter enthusiasm couldn't be produced solely through celebrity fundraising and star-studded events.

"The celebrity fundraisers are more about raising money," said Smith. "I think it's important for the president to bring spokespeople that young people relate to out into the campuses and into the community."

So what is it about celebrities that appeal to young voters?

"Artists speak to their fans and they have credibility," said Smith. "To energize young people, they need to feel like their vote does matter."

Fields and Smith both stressed the importance of both candidates actually going to college campuses.

"However celebrities do go a long way in bringing people together and emphasizing the issues that the candidates address," said Smith.

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