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Young voters glued to the set for politics

Presidential candidates are turning to the Web in hopes of capturing youth votes, but a recent study shows that the Net generation largely gets political information from television.

The presidential candidates are increasingly turning to the Web in hopes of capturing the elusive youth vote, but a recent study showed that the Internet generation gets most of its political information from an old stand-by: television.

The study, commissioned by American Express as part of the Close Up Foundation's First Vote program, also found that most young Americans between the ages of 16 and 21 didn't know that Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman were vice presidential candidates.

Of the 400 youths surveyed in a telephone poll, 48 percent said they get most of their political news from the television. Only 4 percent cited the Internet as a primary source of election information.

But the findings shouldn't dampen campaign efforts to recruit young voters online, said Tim Davis, senior vice president of corporate affairs at American Express and a foundation board member.

"Although the Internet is a pervasive mechanism in people's lives, it is in fact relatively new," Davis said. "As this group grows up, they will get more and more of their information from the Internet."

Getting young people to cast their ballots has always been tough. At the last general election in 1998, the Federal Election Commission noted that about 23 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 were eligible to vote, but only 4.3 million actually did.

The figures have prompted presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush to ingratiate themselves with this large group of potential voters. Going online seemed a logical place to recruit.

Gore urges young voters to recruit friends via email or create a Gore interactive display on their computers. Bush on the other hand entices teens to his site with games, stories about his cat Ernie and quirky analogies of presidential campaigning and baseball.

"Our outreach efforts have been almost entirely over the Net," said Alison Kiehl Friedman, a 21-year-old Stanford University student who took a year off from her studies to run the student outreach program for Gore. She found that the Web may not be where college students go for political news, but it's a great venue to sway undecided or reluctant voters.

"In school, I don't think I ever watched the 5 o'clock news, and by 11, I had better things to do," Friedman said. "On the Web we have everything a student needs to get involved: downloadable fliers, letters to the editor and anything a student organization needs to rally support for Gore."

First Vote bought a list of 6,000 young people ages 16 to 21 from a third-party company. From that, 400 were randomly selected for the telephone survey.

Aside from the Internet finding, there were a few bright spots in the study. Of those registered--about 45 percent--nearly all said they planned to vote on election day. They also said they believe their votes make a difference and that their views are important to the presidential candidates.

First Vote is not the only organization taking the political temperature of young voters.

In August, MTV and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation surveyed 813 young Americans between the ages of 18 and 24. Many of the respondents said they believe the presidential candidates should enforce tougher gun control laws, allow patients to sue their health plans, fund comprehensive sex education in schools, provide health care coverage for the uninsured, and expand protections for gays.

Yet, despite the strong viewpoints, only half said they were registered to vote.

"It will get better," Davis said. "If voting is introduced early, then it becomes part of one's life."