Shivers ran down my spine as voters flocked to their caucus
locations on the night of Jan. 3. Not just because I was confident Sen. Barack
Obama would defy the odds and prevail, but mostly because the line to get in
was so long. The Iowa caucus saw an unprecedented increase in turnout earlier
this month: 239,000 people showed up to caucus for the Democrats, almost
doubling the turnout from 2004.
As it got closer and closer to 7 p.m., more voters came,
many of them registering as Democrats for the first time in their lives. As an
observer, I saw the caucus room fill up. Some locations even had to move to
accommodate the increased turnout. One more thing happened that made me proud:
You ? college students and young people ? showed up.
In 2004, just 4 percent of eligible Iowans under the age of
30 came to the caucus, according to the Center for Information & Research
on Civic Learning & Engagement. This year that number increased to 13
percent, and they made up 22 percent of the overall vote. By carrying 57 percent
of voters ages 17-29, Mr. Obama pulled out the victory, beating John Edwards by
8 points and Hillary Clinton by 9 points.
It?s obvious that Mr. Obama?s message of change and hope
resonated with many young people in Iowa, but the massive increase in turnout
should largely be attributed to him. Fifty-seven percent of caucus voters
participated in their first-ever caucus that night and, of those, 41 percent
voted for Mr. Obama.
Furthermore, there were Republicans who switched parties
just so they could vote for Mr. Obama. There was a couple in their early 20s
who had never caucused before, many high schoolers participating in the voting
process for the first time, and a few older women who gushed over Mr. Obama,
quick to compare him to JFK. There were old people and young people, black
people and white people, Democrats and Republicans, all coming together to
stand for change with Barack Obama.
As Mr. Obama joked in his closing speeches leading up to the
Iowa caucus, his message of change ?must be catching on, because in these last
few weeks, everyone is talking about change.?
It showed Jan. 3, because, in the end, that?s what voters
showed this election is all about. Too many people in this country have had
enough of the divided politics that has plagued our national dialogue for far
too long. We seek this change because of a broken system that hasn?t worked for
years. Because of a style of politics that led us into a war that should never
have been waged. Because of the 47 million without health insurance and the
millions living in poverty. Because of a global climate change that is getting
out of control and an administration that refuses to acknowledge there?s a
Iowa caucus voters stood with Mr. Obama, and they stood with
Democrats. The huge increase in turnout brought thousands into the political
process who had never been there before. These people are now likely to
participate in November because they realize our need for change, something
even the Republican candidates seem to be embracing after Iowa.
Although Mr. Obama lost a close race to Ms. Clinton in New
Hampshire, the turnout was also record-breaking. Here, Mr. Obama once again
carried first-time primary voters, receiving 47 percent of their vote to Ms.
Clinton?s 37 percent, and won a whopping 60 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds. Most
importantly, according to exit polls, 54 percent said bringing change was the
top quality they looked for in a candidate, which once again shows how Mr.
Obama?s message has caught on.
It caught on in that caucus room in Iowa, and it caught on
last fall right here on our campus. With your help we have made a lot of
progress, but our work is not over. Students for Barack Obama invites you to
join us at our kickoff meeting Thursday, Jan. 24. Please visit www.uw4obama.com
for the time and location. We?ll let you know how to get involved these last
weeks leading up to Super Tuesday and then on to Wisconsin?s primary.
Ami Elshareif ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in political science
and legal studies and is the chair of UW Students for Obama.