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Obama lesson for NZ elections: Youth count!

Obama lesson for NZ elections: Youth count!

The US primaries send a powerful message to NZ politicians: ignore young people at your peril, say the people who work with youth.

"The rise of Barack Obama as a serious contender in the race for the US presidency illustrates how powerful the youth vote can be," says New Zealand Aotearoa Adolescent Health and Development (NZAAHD) executive officer Sarah Helm.

New Zealand politicians should be planning a comprehensive strategy for reaching younger voters in this election year.

"It is no longer acceptable for politicians to think that young people are apathetic or powerless, nor assume that there is no need to campaign for the youth vote," says Ms Helm.

Obama has illustrated that with the right strategy young people can have a powerful impact on the overall result.

"Obama has appealed to young people by utilising new technologies, by the issues he is addressing, and by the people he is mobilising." Younth-oriented social networking sites are not being comprehensively used by political parties, with only National and Labour featuring on Facebook and Bebo.

"Very few of our local politicians are using technology, such as social networking spaces, where many young people get their information." But attracting young voters is a deeper issue than technology, she says.

"When young people see politicians using unfair stereotypes and generalisations to label them, they become cynical and respond accordingly." Obama has seen this, addressed it, and is reaping the rewards, she says.

"Even the announcement of his candidacy last year was followed up by a 3,500-strong student rally. He has paid attention to under-25 year old voters, and the dividends are paying off."

"Political commentators are calling his victory a 'youth vote triumph', with unprecedented numbers of youth voters turning out to support him. Similarly in Australia, Kevin Rudd's success is partially attributed to support amongst young people."

If politicians want to win the votes of young people, they need to release policies that encourage, support and appeal to young people.

"We hope that political leaders will realise that young people are intelligent, capable and important members of our community, who want to be a part of our electoral processes." ŒOur predictions for this year's election? The parties that most effectively engages young people will be the most successful come election night," says Ms Helm.


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