College Students See Hero in Obama


Published: January 31, 2008

FCLC—Thousands assembled at American University on Jan. 28 as the family of the late President John F. Kennedy announced their endorsement of Senator Barack Obama for President. But it wasn’t simply the family’s political background that brought the Kennedys to this decision. Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of John F. Kennedy, stated that it was her children, ages 15, 17 and 19, who first made her realize that Barack Obama is the president we need.

Barack Obama supporters attend a campaign event in Florence, SC. (Lindsay Semple/MCT)

“There is a generation coming of age that is hopeful, hard-working, innovative and imaginative,” Caroline wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed piece just one day before her American University appearance. “As parents, we have a responsibility to help our children to believe in themselves and in their power to shape their future. Senator Obama is inspiring my children, my parents’ grandchildren, with that sense of possibility.”

There is no doubt that Obama has garnered an overwhelming amount of support from young Americans. Most recently, Obama won the South Carolina primary, with exit polls showing his youth support at 67 percent. Fordham faculty and students say his popularity among young voters is owed to a variety of reasons, but mostly for the simple fact that he is different.

“Young people are a diverse, open-minded, progress-oriented group of society and would be attracted to Barack Obama,” said Elissa Dauria, FCLC ’10.

Obama won the Iowa caucus where 57 percent of Democratic voters between the ages of 17 and 24 voted for him, according to The Politico, a political news organization. In New Hampshire, despite his loss, 62 percent of voters in that category voted for Obama. In Nevada, young people preferred Obama to Clinton by more than 26 percent.

“Obama is a fresh face,” said Costas Panagopoulos, director of the Elections and Campaign Management Program at Fordham. “Young voters may be tired of the same old names in politics, people who, after all, have been in office on some level for young voters’ entire lives.”

Panagopoulos said there is a generational aspect in this race, pointing out that a challenge for Clinton is that “a Clinton or Bush has been in a high-profile, elective office for three decades.”

Tom De Luca, professor of political science and director of the International Studies Program at Fordham, said it is important not to underestimate the fact that Obama is new, fresh and younger. He continued by saying Obama has been successful in gaining the support of college students for a combination of reasons, one being that he delivers a message that is different and well-tailored to young, educated voters.

“He has a way of speaking that may talk to people who hold, what some people call, ‘post-materialist’ values,” De Luca said. He explains, “Rightly or wrongly, they want to see the world not in terms of the working class versus the ruling elite, but they want to see a different way. [Obama’s] message of trying to find common solutions and reaching out across lines, kind of gets away from the old divides in some way.”

A poll on the ABC News’ U.S. Politics application on Facebook asked users which Democratic candidate they most want to NOT be president. With more than 40,000 participants in the poll, approximately 72 percent voted Clinton. Obama had only 14 percent of those votes, and also holds the largest number of supporters on Facebook of the Democratic candidates.

De Luca said he believes the reason some younger voters prefer Obama to Clinton may be because Clinton represents the past. “Not just the past, but she represents a past that a lot of people probably want to get away from, which is a deeply partisan past.”

This can also, however, act as a challenge for Obama, particularly in gaining the support of older voters, De Luca said. “Older people associate Bill Clinton, and therefore Hillary Clinton, with the ‘90s,” he said. There is nostalgia for the ‘90s, with memories of a better economy, and some people attribute this to Clinton being president, he added.

Another reason for Obama’s success with the college vote, as said by both De Luca and Panagopoulos, is his qualities as a speaker. He is “a charismatic and energetic speaker,” Panagopoulos said.

De Luca said while most politicians are good speakers in different ways, Obama has an exceptional inspirational quality.

“His speaking is similar to President Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Jr.,” said Jonathan Haines, FCLC ’10.

De Luca also attributes Obama’s popularity among the youth to the fact that “we haven’t had many heroes in a while.” De Luca states that a lot of young people today, even if they are not involved in politics, are involved in many avenues of volunteering and community work. “It’s not that people don’t want to do something to help, but in terms of the political vehicle, I think there’s been a lack and I think Obama fills a void in that respect,” he said.

Students offer additional reasons for supporting Obama. “He’s young, and I think that’s important,” said Brian O’Connell, FCLC ’11. “Politics has sort of become an old people’s game, but Obama has both charisma and youth.”

Tatiana Urriaga, FCLC ’08, said she believes Obama is what our country needs right now. “He has experience with foreign policies and has a plan for Iraq,” she said. “I think we need someone who will bring hope.”

Other students also cited foreign relations as a reason for why they support Obama. “Obama was raised Muslim, so he can establish better relations with Muslim nations,” said Lenny Almanzar, FCLC ’09.

Carlos Aguayza, FCLC ’08, said that though the country may be ready for a female president, the world is not, concluding that Clinton would jeopardize relationships with foreign nations, whereas Obama would have better relations with them.

“He equals change,” Dauria said. “For example, Obama’s support of ethics laws and legislation to limit lobbyists from monetarily influencing politicians says to me that he wants what’s best for people, not companies.”

She continued by saying she believes Obama is a great representative of what it means to be American. “His father was an immigrant, he’s eloquent and educated,” she said. “Everything about him is American because Americans are made of every culture and race on earth. And sometimes you have to remind people of that.”