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Text the Vote?

If the campaigns get it right, mobile experts say, next year's election will see "a very big bump" in youth voter participation.

That's a big "if."

So far only Sen. Barack Obama, who's emerging as the pioneering Internet candidate of the campaign (by measure of online fundraising prowess and grassroots popularity on the MySpace-Facebook-YouTube trifecta), is regularly using a text messaging campaign effectively and strategically. On Tuesday, The Trail received two text messages from Obama. The first, received at 3:29 p.m. EST, read: "Please REPLY to this message with your five-digit ZIP code to receive local Obama campaign news and periodic updates . . ." The second message, received five hours later at 8:39 p.m. EST, read: "Barack is giving a major Iraq policy speech tomorrow. He will also be live on the Today Show tomorrow morning at 7 a.m. Visit BarackObama.com for more info." Both messages were specific, to-the-point, and gave users something to do off the phone, not just on it.

Sen. Hillary Clinton and former senator John Edwards are also on the cell phone bandwagon, but we rarely hear from them. (Though it must be noted that a wonderfully informal text was sent by the Clinton campaign on Sept. 6: "Hi, let's do lunch!" Hillary wrote.)

A new study by Princeton and University of Michigan found that on the eve of last year's midterm elections, young voters who were sent message reminders were significantly more likely to vote. No surprise there, experts say, since most teenagers live on their cell phones the same way many use SMS programs on Facebook and MySpace. The non-partisan Working Assets Wireless, a mobile company that works with civic organizations, reported that sending a message reminder to vote -- particularly a succinct, to-the-point reminder -- gave a 4 percent boost in the youth voter turnout rates.

In June, The Post wrote about the potential of mobile campaigning. With more than three quarters of Americans with cell phones, campaigns said it's a technology they can't afford not to exploit. But, as it stands, only Obama is using it consistently, said Tim Chambers, co-founder of Media 50 Group, a start-up that focuses on the mobile political space, and co-author of the definitive study "Mobile Media in 21st Century Politics" for the progressive think-tank New Politics Institute. As for the Republicans? "They seem to have been slower this cycle across the board when it comes to new technologies, including mobile."

There's still time to catch up.

--Jose Antonio Vargas

By Post Editor  |  September 13, 2007; 5:48 PM ET
 
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