Obama Draws Record Number Young People Illinois Sen. Barack Obama won the Democratic caucus in Iowa Thursday night in large part because of the support of young people. Among caucus participants under 30, Obama took 57 percent of the vote.

Obama Draws Record Number Young People

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/17847196/17847174" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.


And I'm Madeleine Brand.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): We are not a collection of red states and blue states, we are the United States of America.

(Soundbite of cheering crowd)

Sen. OBAMA: And in this moment in this election we are ready to believe again. Thank you, Iowa.

(Soundbite of cheering crowd)

BRAND: Democrat Barack Obama after his victory in Iowa last night. A big reason for his win - young people. There were three times as many young caucus-goers in Iowa this year than last time in 2004. Fifty-seven percent of Democrats under the age of 30 went with Obama.

CHADWICK: And one of them was Mike Draper. He's 24 years old. He owns a T-shirt shop in Des Moines.

DAY TO DAY's Alex Cohen went along with Mike and his wife to their local caucus in a precinct called Sherman Hill.

(Soundbite of cheering crowd)

Mr. DAN GRAY(ph) (Precinct Chair): Needless to say, we have broken every record.

ALEX COHEN: Dan Gray was the precinct's chair at the Sherman Hill caucus.

Mr. GRAY: Four years ago, I believe we had 60 people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GRAY: Tonight, we have 207.

(Soundbite of cheering crowd)

COHEN: Dan split the crowd up into seven groups - one for each of the Democratic candidates and another for those who hadn't made their minds up yet.

Mr. GRAY: If you're undecided because you really don't know, come over here. We want to see how big we are.

COHEN: It turns out there were only a handful of undecideds in Sherman Hill, and most were quickly swayed, some by persistent friends, others by Obama supporters. But caucus-goers supporting second-tier candidates were tougher to sway. Mike Draper, the T-shirt guy, tried to persuade his friend Linda Shefley(ph) to leave her small group of Chris Dodd fans and join him in the Obama camp. Her reply: no way.

Ms. LINDA SHEFLEY: And I'm not emotionally attached either to Edwards, Hillary or Obama. I'm emotionally attached to my guy, Chris Dodd. He's a rock star. You should - you should come on our team.

Mr. MIKE DRAPER (Owner, SMASH): I can't though. My wife's over there.

Ms. SHEFLEY: Come on. You can bring her with you. We don't discriminate.

COHEN: Now, this is where things got complicated. You see, Mike came into this caucus dead set on choosing Obama. And then after the first tally, Obama's group had 90 people, a huge majority.

Mr. DRAPER: No matter how many people Obama has, they only get one delegate. Bizarre little system...

COHEN: Here's how that bizarre little system works. As Mike said, no matter how big Obama's group got, they were only going to get one delegate. So they started thinking of other ways they could wield their power. A couple of them suggested sending a big enough group to Joe Biden or Chris Dodd with the thought that they could overtake the 36 people in John Edwards' camp and deprive him of his delegates.

Mr. GRAY: Hi, this is Dan of Precinct 65 in Polk County. I have a situation and I need your help, really.

COHEN: No one seemed quite sure if such a power play was actually legit. So the precinct captain called in to the state Democratic Party to clarify. As everyone awaited word, Mike wound up caught in a large pack of utterly confused Obama supporters.

Mr. DRAPER: We're going to have to pull out the caucus rule book. It's like a bad game of billiards.

COHEN: In the end, the party rules dictated that since Edwards, Clinton and Obama all became viable candidates in the first round of voting, that's who Sherman Hill's three delegates would go to.

Mr. GRAY: Sixty-two...

Mr. DRAPER: Sixty-three...

Unidentified Man #1: Sixty-four...

Unidentified Man #2: Sixty-five...

COHEN: At the final tally of the night, Mike was number 63 of 107 people supporting Barack Obama. And still, he points out, Obama got just that one delegate.

Mr. DRAPER: And you do always think it's a little unfair that Obama has, you know, over half the people at the whole thing, but then you get the same number of delegates as Hillary and Edwards.

COHEN: Politics may not have been entirely pretty last night, Mike says. But he adds it'll be a whole different set of rules come next week in the New Hampshire primary, rules he thinks could lead to an even bigger victory for his candidate of choice.

Alex Cohen, NPR News, Des Moines.

BRAND: As we said earlier, young voters like Mike Draper were key to Obama's win last night. Will they be there for him in New Hampshire and beyond? Joining us now is Jehmu Greene. She's a political consultant and former president of Rock the Vote.

Welcome to DAY TO DAY.

Ms. JEHMU GREENE (Political Consultant): Thanks for having me.

BRAND: Obama, he's young, he's charismatic, he talks a lot about change. Is that what got a lot of young Democrats in Iowa fired up to caucus for him?

Ms. GREENE: It is clear that his message of change and hope connected with this generation of new voters. And he was able to put together an unprecedented field program in Iowa that also helped him win a landslide margin with young voters.

BRAND: Well, talk a little bit about that field program. What did he do to get these young people out?

Ms. GREENE: His entire field organization in Iowa was targeting young voters. Usually there's very limited resources that are put into engaging young people, but the Obama campaign actually spent a lot of resources identifying these young people, and they stuck with them, they called them, they knocked on their doors, and they actually turned them out. Usually young voter outreach is not necessarily a part of a field program, and that was the difference with him. Their base, their target in Iowa where these young voters.

And we see with him winning 57 percent of the young people who turned out to the caucuses, that's a landslide margin. The young people who came out came out for Barack. They came out to the Democratic caucus. There was just a trickle of them in the Republican caucuses. And again, his message of change and hope really connected with these voters.

BRAND: Now, four years ago the big news was Howard Dean using the Internet and meet-ups to get the youth vote out. Is Obama doing that as well as this door-to-door field campaigning?

Ms. GREENE: Absolutely. Social networking sites have been a big part of their youth outreach with the Obama campaign, and you know, we see hundreds of thousands of young people having identified themselves on Facebook as Obama supporters. So it's a combination of the Internet, which Howard Dean was effective in using, but again, I think the key point was the Obama campaign is that they didn't stop with the Internet and, you know, cell phone outreach; they took this to the streets.

Again in Iowa they had 175 student chapters, that each one of those chapters were turning out five to 20 young people to the caucuses. That's just unprecedented in presidential campaigns. And you know, they have that same operation in New Hampshire and across the country. The Clintons have a strong operation with traditional voters. The Obama campaign knew that they were going to have to find new voters, and the best way to find new voters is to reach out to young people because they are the group that votes in the smallest number. So you know, that has been a part of his strategy and a part of his national grassroots operation from the start.

BRAND: Political consultant Jehmu Greene, thanks for joining us.

Ms. GREENE: Thank you.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.