The three leading Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards are trying to reach younger voters by sending SMS (short message service) updates to supporters. No Republican candidate has yet used this technology to whip up support.
Political observers say that text messaging has been used in other countries to rally support for political causes. Text messages helped to fuel rallies that led to the ouster of Philippine president Joseph Estrada in 2001 and may have tipped the balance in the 2004 elections in Spain. Cell Phone technology has yet to be tapped in American elections.
In 2006 Americans sent over 158 billion text messages in a country with more than 243 million mobile phones. Around 43 percent of 18 to 24 year-olds in the United States text daily, according to Insight Express. About 10 percent of 55 to 64 year-olds also text daily.
“It could be an incredibly useful mobilization tool,” says Julie Germany, deputy director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet at George Washington University.
The use of text messaging “is catching on little bit in the US but text messaging in this country is nowhere near as big as it is in places like Europe, Latin America and Asia.”
Princeton University graduate student Aaron Strauss has researched technology and elections and said candidates are looking to use SMS to reach younger voters.
Strauss said his study showed that persons who received a text message reminder ahead of an election were about four percent more likely to vote than those who did not.
“The newest generation of voters is starting to use text messaging and as they become politically active I think you’ll see text messaging become more important in campaigns,” he said.
Mobile phone users can text for updates to Obama (62262), Clinton (77007) or Edwards (30644).
“By harnessing the power of text messaging, we can engage voters in the political process using the latest technology and provide personalized, local campaign updates to our supporters nationwide,” Clinton said in a statement on the launch of her service.
Republicans may not think younger voters are likely to support them, or their conservatism may make them leery of new technology. But the 21 Century is here and cell phones are an important part of it. If the GOP was willing to submit itself to the ridiculous YouTube debate, its candidates should be willing to spend a little money on text messaging supporters with updates and voting reminders.