Prior to the American Presidential debate that took place on the 26th September 1960, John F. Kennedy was merely a Senator from Massachusetts, taking on the incumbent candidate, Richard Nixon, in what was the first presidential debate in the United States to be shown on live television. It has since often been discussed as the turning point in the election: Nixon still showed some visual effects from a recent sickness, along with a five o’clock shadow, as he refused to wear makeup. Viewers rejected Nixon, swinging support towards the more photogenic Kennedy, and in the long run leading to JFK winning the election that year.
If it can be said then that Nixon lost the election in 1960 because of a failure to realise the power of new technologies, the same cannot be said of the Obama campaign in 2008. As the New York Times realised even at the time, “by bolting together social networking applications under the banner of a movement, they created an unforeseen force to raise money, organise locally, fight smear campaigns”. According to the Roper Center, 66 percent of 18-29-year-olds who voted voted for Obama. (While a lot has been made of the greater engagement of the campaign with the younger demographics leading to a higher turnout, in actuality it was only a slight improvement on 2004 numbers: 51% turnout for 18-29-year-olds in 2008, up from 49% in 2004. However, these are both significantly higher than the previous election, the number in 2000 was down at 40%.)
So when the Obama administration announced in 2009 that the Office of Public Liason was changing its name to the Office of Public Engagement, it was not merely announcing a cosmetic change. The administration was aware of the returning election cycle in 2012, and an effort to further engage with rapidly expanding online communities. Furthermore, it was an indication of the acknowledgement by the Obama regime of a changing world, a world of increased democratisation of information and a response to the changing demands and abilities of the general public in America. As part of this change in direction for the office and a push to engage younger voters, Kalpen Modi was hired as Associate Director of the office. Kalpen Modi, better known to some as Kal Penn, is an actor who is a familiar face to many of the younger voting-eligible generation, having appeared as one-half of Harold and Kumar, as well as on TV shows such as 24, and House. As part of his position, he was tasked with engaging the elusive young voters who turned out in droves for President Obama in 2008, but who seemed to be more reticent to vote in the following election.
The fact that Obama won in 2012 speaks for itself.
(Note: The fact that Trump reversed the focus of the office also speaks for itself.)
Von Drehle, David. “Obama’s Youth Vote Triumph”. Time.com. http://content.time.com/time/politics/article/0,8599,1700525,00.html. Web. Accessed 09/4/17.
“How Groups Voted In 2008 – Roper Center”. Roper Center, 2017, https://ropercenter.cornell.edu/polls/us-elections/how-groups-voted/how-groups-voted-2008/. Web. Accessed 09/4/17.
Hoban Kirby, Emily and Kawashima-Ginsberg, Kei. “The Youth Vote in 2008”. http://www.civicyouth.org/PopUps/FactSheets/FS_youth_Voting_2008_updated_6.22.pdf. Web. Accessed 09/4/17.
Tapper, Jake. “Actor Kal Penn On Working For White House”. ABC News, 2017, http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/kal-penn-working-white-houses-public-engagement-change/story?id=14184884. Web. Accessed 09/4/17.