Great article in today’s New York Times: “Obama’s young backers twist parents’ arms“.
I’m still working on my mom, who was offended by Barack’s comparison of
his wife with Jacqueline Kennedy. Both mom and dad (and everyone else I
talk to) agree Hillary Clinton’s bid is finished. Yet my family focus
group would plump for McCain, so there’s a lot at stake!
Obama’s Young Backers Twiest Parents’ Arms
Jan Hoffman (New York Times)The daily phone calls. The midnight e-mail. And, when college lets out, those dinner table declamations? Oh, please.
Senator Barack Obama’s devotees just won’t give their parents a break.
As the race for the Democratic presidential nomination continues,
youthful volunteers for each candidate have been campaigning with
bright-eyed brio, not only door-to-door but also at home. But the young
supporters of Mr. Obama, who has captured a majority of under-30
primary voters, seem to be leading in the pestering sweepstakes. They
send their parents the latest Obama YouTube videos, blog exhortations
and “Tell Your Mama/Vote for Obama!” bumper stickers.
Megan Simpson, a Penn State
senior, had not been able to budge her father, a Republican. But the
day before the deadline for registering for the coming Democratic
primary in Pennsylvania, she handed him the forms and threw in a
deal-sweetener as well. “I said, ‘Dad, if you change your party
affiliation in time to vote for Obama,’ ” recalled Ms. Simpson, 22, an
Obama campus volunteer, “ ‘I will get you the paperwork the day after
the primary if you want to switch back to being a Republican.’ ”
Thus did Ralph E. Simpson Jr., 50, construction company owner,
become a newly minted Democrat. “I probably will switch my affiliation
back,” Mr. Simpson said, “but I haven’t decided who I will vote for in
the general election. If Meg keeps working on me, who knows?”
No poll has counted Obama supporters who made their choice at the
urging of their children. But combined exit polls for all the primaries
so far (excluding Florida and Michigan) show that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton
has edged out Mr. Obama, 50 percent to 46 percent, among voters ages 45
to 64 — those who are old enough, and then some, to be the parents of
Mr. Obama’s young supporters.
But even politicians are mentioning the persuasiveness of their
children, either in earnest or as political cover, as a factor in their
That list of Democrats includes Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania,
Gov. Jim Doyle of Wisconsin, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Gov.
Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
While politicians inevitably invoke children and the future, rarely
have the political preferences of children themselves carried much
weight with their elders. On the contrary: when baby boomer parents
were the age their children are now, the ideological and social gap
between generations was more pronounced. Parents were, by definition,
authoritarian. Their children were, by definition, anti-.
But the sharp distinctions between generations have eroded. Parents
now are exponentially more entwined with their offspring, inclined to
place their children’s emotional well-being ahead of their own. Even
when students live away at college, many parents call them and send
text messages every day.
The Obama campaign was well positioned to capitalize on this
veritable seamlessness. From the outset, Mr. Obama eagerly sought out
young voters with his Internet operation and a widespread, efficient
campus network. Those efforts are paying off: in all Democratic
primaries to date (excluding Florida and Michigan), about 6 in 10
voters under age 30 have supported him, according to exit polls
conducted by Edison/Mitofsky.
For some waffling primary voters, the relentless push by their
children was good enough reason to capitulate. Eager to encourage their
offspring’s latest enthusiasm, they have been willing to toss up their
hands and vote for Mr. Obama, if only to impress their children.
“Our kids are probably more precious to us than any previous generation of parents,” said Dan Kindlon, a Harvard
child psychologist. “We have fewer of them, we’re relativists, and
we’re more swayed by them. A lot of parents are a little afraid of
For many parents, this campaign season also feels like a fond
flashback: in their children’s unvarnished idealism, many see a
resurrection of their own youthful political passions.
“It’s something you can brag to your friends about,” said Professor
Kindlon, who writes about child-rearing and adolescents. “ ‘My kid is
involved in politics.’ ”
Donna Wall, 50, an elementary school teacher from Roanoke Rapids,
N.C., had been a supporter of Mrs. Clinton. But her son, Drew, 21, a
college student and Obama volunteer, would not let up until his mother
switched allegiances for the coming primary.
“I’m glad they’re interested in something other than their own self-interest and partying,” Mrs. Wall said.
Curtis Gans, a staff director of Eugene J. McCarthy’s 1968 campaign
for the Democratic presidential nomination, pointed out that the
youthful enthusiasm in this primary did resemble that of 40 years ago.
But he said that while Mr. McCarthy’s temporary success was largely due
to the support of college students and middle-class mothers, they had
been aroused more by the issue of the Vietnam War than by the
“People are enthused by the fact that young people are engaged and
excited again,” said Mr. Gans, director of the Center for the Study of
the American Electorate at American University. “They think that’s
really healthy, and they’d like to sustain it. But at this point, it is
temporary and it is about Obama.”
There’s no telling whether these youthful importunings on Mr.
Obama’s behalf will tip the balance for the nomination, or follow him
into the general election should he be nominated. Certainly Mrs.
Clinton is not without her own fresh-faced vanguard.
Rachel Mattson, 18, a freshman at Wellesley, called her mother,
Michelle, in Memphis daily, pressing her to vote for Mrs. Clinton in
the Tennessee primary.
“I don’t see a huge difference between the two candidates,” said
Michelle Mattson, 45. “But Rachel never let it go. You’ll be sitting at
the dinner table for an hour going over this stuff! Her enthusiasm and
what it means to her inspired me.” She voted for Mrs. Clinton.
While Mrs. Clinton has a national network of student volunteers, Mr.
Obama’s network is far more extensive. Web sites like Kids for Obama
and YrMomma4Obama urge youngsters to talk up the candidate to their
The two adult sons of Governor Doyle, 62, both black and both
adopted, spoke to him with fervor about Mr. Obama’s vision of a
multiracial country. Then Mr. Doyle’s young grandson piled on.
“He’s a complete Barackomaniac,” Mr. Doyle said in a phone
interview. “When I asked him why, he said, ‘I think he’s really going
to work hard for us.’ I thought, that’s it through the eyes of a
7-year-old. ‘He’ll work hard,’ and ‘for us.’ ”
The stealth campaigning was more persistent in the home of Senator
Casey, 47. Mr. Casey, who was going to remain neutral, noticed how
excited his four daughters, ages 11 to 19, were about Mr. Obama. The
autographed Obama posters on the bedroom walls. The self-imposed hush
in the living room when Mr. Obama would give a televised speech.
His daughter Julia, 13, would say, “Dad, when are you going to
endorse Obama?” Mr. Casey recalled in a phone interview. “My response
was, ‘I’m thinking about a lot of things, Julia.’ And she’d laugh and
say, ‘Dad, answer my question.’ ”
Not all parents have been overjoyed to see their children donate
countless unpaid hours to Mr. Obama. Bader ElShareif, 52, who
immigrated from Gaza 31 years ago, was appalled that his daughter Ami,
20, a student at the University of Wisconsin, worked almost seven days a week last summer in Chicago for the candidate. Mr. ElShareif, who was leaning toward Senator John McCain, was annoyed that she did not have a salaried job to defray college expenses.
“I’d be exhausted, but I’d still want to debate with him,” Ms.
ElShareif said. “Then he’d start calling me up and saying, ‘Hey, did
you hear this about Obama? So and so endorsed him!’ ”
In the Illinois primary, Mr. ElShareif voted for Mr. Obama. His
daughter, thrilled, sent him an Obama sign, which he displays in his
convenience store near the University of Chicago.
“The neighbors and the students come in now and say, ‘We like your
sign,’ ” Mr. ElShareif said. “Maybe these young people know something
Dalia Sussman contributed reporting.