When Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush and Democratic candidate Al Gore spar in their first debate tonight, young people nationwide will be rating them moment-to-moment on the Internet.
The National Youth Meter, devised by political activist organizations Youth Vote 2000 and SpeakOut.com, will allow 18- to 30-year-olds to rate each second of the candidates' performances as the debate unfolds at the University of Massachusetts-Boston.
Young people who have registered to use the site can visit SpeakOut.com during the debate and continuously evaluate the candidates' statements on a scale of one to 100 throughout the debate.
SpeakOut.com will provide the service for all three presidential debates, and results will be available to the public immediately. Young people can register at www.speakout.com.
John Dervin, Youth Vote 2000 politics and debates director, said the National Youth Meter is a way to let the candidates know what issues are most important to young people - a potential step toward increasing youth voting.
"Politicians are not talking about issues in ways that connect with young people," Dervin said. "If we are to increase (youth voter) turnout, we need candidates doing more to reach out to young people."
But UNC political science Professor George Rabinowitz said he is skeptical that the Internet will impact youth participation. "The Web is an area where youth tend to be more engaged," he said. "The problem is in reaching those who aren't already motivated."
But Terrance McRae, a sophomore business major, said the Internet can be an effective tool to reach youth. He said poor turnout results from politicians' inability to connect with youth. "I feel disconnected," he said. "I think we look at politicians as being dirty."
Freshman biology major Mariola Luciano said the Youth Meter has the potential to be effective but will only be successful if candidates take it seriously - something she said she doubts Bush or Gore will do.
"(Youth voting turnout) has been a topic for years, and nothing has really been done about it," Luciano said.
Dervin said that even if the National Youth Meter doesn't change the way Bush and Gore campaign, the groups' joint effort has gone far toward reaching young voters.
"We've gotten the word out that there is a debate, and that (young people) can not only passively watch it, but take part," Dervin said.
But Luciano also said politicians need to focus more on younger people "We are the future," she said.
"We are as important as other people. We should be given as much attention."
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