First-time voters seen energized

She would rather vote for Tina Fey than for Sarah Palin, said Erin O'Connell, a UMass-Boston student and first time voter. But she is excited to be able to cast her ballot in the "most historical" election in her lifetime.

O'Connell is among many youth who are registering in record numbers to vote in an election that she says will affect everyone, especially the youth. At UMass-Boston, 1,300 voters have been registered through a drive led by the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group.

The presidential election is the most discussed subject in classrooms and leads to many heated debates in cafeterias.

"It is the number one topic in school," said Jahangir Rehman, a Psychology major at UMass- Boston.

Even as conversations tend to be in favor of Obama, "I haven't felt that it is necessary to defend my views," said Jayne Rodman, a senior at Suffolk University, who works in Dorchester. "I feel they are choosing Obama because everybody is choosing him."

Rodman, who is voting for McCain, said, "But I do feel odd." She said she knows only one Republican at Suffolk University.

"A lot of kids don't know much about politics," said Dorchester's Patrick Ross, 18, a senior at Boston Latin Academy. They say McCain is not fit to be president because he is old, he said.

Everyone in school is voting for Obama, Ross says, but he prefers McCain.

"I sit back. I know what my beliefs are and don't try to enforce them on others," Ross said.

Presidential debates were also an opportunity for many to "hang out" with their friends and watch the candidates.

"At UMass, some 50 to 60 kids got together to watch the debates," said 19 year-old Rehman.

It is easier to see the differences among the candidate's policies and personalities during the debates, and this helps to make an educated choice, Illeana Adamez, 20, said. "The debates have a lot of rhetoric, but also help reveal the candidates agendas."

When it comes to choosing a president a number of factors are at play. Leadership qualities of a candidate are important to many but their stand on national issues is the deciding factor. Economy, taxation, Iraq War, health care and education, are the most important issues that first time voters are considering while choosing the president.

"Obama speaks to the youth," said O'Connell, 21, an English major at UMass-Boston. For her, the Illinois senator's multicultural heritage is refreshing. "He is for the middle class, while McCain stands for the upper class."

Rodman, who said she is more conservative as a person, finds Obama's association with ex-terrorist William Ayers "definitely suspicious."

Sarah Palin's $150,000 wardrobe is extravagant and use of state funds for her family's travel shows she is not responsible, said Rehman.

"I am afraid for the country, because she is not ready."

He supports Obama's plan to pull the troops out of Iraq, is looking forward reforms in the education policies. "I am afraid of how the economy will affect tuition and student loans."

On national issues, first time voters get their information from a wide range of sources-New York Times, Boston Globe, ABC, and Fox News. But most of them constantly update themselves on election news by going online. Videos on YouTube and political blogs are also top sources. Many eagerly wait for NBC's Saturday Night Live.

To get international feedback and perspective on the elections, Adamez, a political science graduate at UMass, reads Le Monde, a French daily newspaper.

"Here you don't realize how big it is 'til you see how everyone in the world is talking about it," she said

However, there are many who say the media coverage is biased. It tends to be racist towards Obama and sexist when it comes to Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin.

"If a man with five kids is running for president they won't be asking if he will be able to handle the job," said Rodman. But Fox News is as fair as it can be, she said. "It is not as bad as everybody says."

The media coverage is negative, said O'Connell. "Obama is underrated."

Many newly registered voters' say that the campaign run by both McCain and Obama is neither racist nor sexist, but is more about "attacking the other candidate."

"McCain is talking not about what he stands for but what Obama stands for or not and it applies to Obama's campaign too," said 18 year-old Matthew Flynn, a student at Assumption College at Worcester.

Friends and family may have influenced the youth to register. But when it comes to choosing the president first time voters feel "confident" in making their own decisions.

"I have many debates and discussions with my father who is very politically conscious, but I would still be a democrat if my father were a republican, because I identify with democratic principles," said Erin O'Connell.

It is a "privilege" to vote, she said. "If you do not vote you got no right to complain."


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