March 1, 2007

Students Show Obama Support Through Online Groups

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On Jan. 16, Farouk Olu Aregbe of Washington D.C. started a Facebook group called “One Million Strong for Barack” as a place for young potential voters to come together to declare their support for the Illinois senator, even though Obama had not officially declared his candidacy for the White House.

As of March 1, 307,000 Facebook members have joined, with the goal of reaching 1 million members by May 1 “seeming like nothing now,” according to Aregbe. The group has received national attention on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews.”

The strong reaction to “One Million Strong for Barack” is just one major example of the support Obama has been receiving on the web from students. The Obama campaign has taken advantage by starting a website called Students for Barack Obama. Members of this website have the ability to search for local rallies, read Obama’s speeches and stances on certain issues and read the most recent coverage of Obama in newspapers.

“Obamania,” as “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart has termed the frenzied reaction to Senator Obama, has already reached the Cornell campus, even though the national election is eighteen months away. In fact, two separate Facebook groups were started in support of Obama’s candidacy: “Cornell for Barack Obama” and “Cornellians for Barack Obama.”

Together the groups now have 484 Cornell students. By comparison, Cornell Facebook groups supporting Hillary Clinton and John McCain have 70 and 12 members respectively.

The two Obama groups, although still distinct on the web, have essentially merged into one group of students supporting his campaign. Eronmonsele Elens-Eigbokhan ’09 and Tim Krueger ’09 have each created a group in support of Obama and have spearheaded the local campaign push. They have already held two group meetings in person to discuss the future plans for the campaign.

As to the question of whether the Facebook groups were taking in non-committed supporters who just joined because of the ease of making one-click on the computer, Elens-Eigbokhan responded, “At first, we were nervous about the trading of quality and driven supporters for sheer quantity by basing our operations on the Facebook. But after our first two meetings, it is clear that Obama has a large number of dedicated supports on this campus.”

According to the U.S. Census, 46 percent of Americans in this age group voted in the 2004 presidential election, while only 57 percent are registered to vote. By comparison, 71 percent of Americans over the age of 55 voted out of nearly 80 percent who are registered to vote.

On the other hand, Ben Wallace-Wells of Rolling Stone, a media outlet popular with college-aged students, has said that “no candidate since Robert F. Kennedy has sparked as much campaign heat.”

Obama is the first candidate trying to prove that the MySpace and Facebook generation can turn its technological savvy and interest into tangible results in a national election. The senator from Illinois has 18 months to see if the youth vote makes enough of a difference to tip the election in his favor.