Dean brought students back

Dean reported that 25 percent of his campaign contributions came from voters under 30 years of age.

Howard Dean is out of the race, but his legacy among young voters will outlive his campaign. Dean helped mobilize and redefine the group of voters most often written off as the “boxers or briefs?” demographic. This year most college students will vote in a presidential election for the first time and – thanks to Dean – they are savvier, better connected and more economically important than ever before.

The University was home to multiple “Students for Dean” groups. For many, Dean represented their first model of a Democrat. Dean resisted identification with the “center” while simultaneously drawing back the movement among young people toward third parties. He memorably asserted, “In order to change America, we are first going to have to change the Democratic Party, and make it stand for its principles once again.”

The medical doctor from Vermont not only instigated an ideological realignment among young Democrats, he demonstrated their willingness to vote with their wallets. Dean reported that 25 percent of his campaign contributions came from voters under 30 years of age. This is not only indicative of trends among young people but the overall untapped economic potential of voters who are not millionaires.

Dean might not have invented the Internet, but he did reinvent its role in presidential campaigns. Contrary to many media depictions, young people are not the only voters online. Nor is the Internet most useful as the domain for new language invention or the creation of pithy typographic expressions of emotion. 😮

The focus on so-called “new” technology in elections is long overdue and should not be seen as mere pandering to a young demographic. The Internet is convenient, it moves people and it will be the dominant medium in future campaigns.

As the race unfolds, democratic hopefuls have Dean to thank for his broad impact on future politics. Candidates are wise to focus on young voters. They are the future and, as Dean admirably recognized, the present.