Dallas, TX – Bill Zeeble, KERA reporter: It's lunchtime in the packed Hughes Trigg cafeteria at Southern Methodist University. 18 year old Chris Wall's happy to talk about his presidential primary choice.
Christopher Wall, SMU student: I really like Barak Obama now. I mean his image, he sold me well, with the whole progress, time for change. He's an interesting candidate and Barak Obama appeals to us because he seems to he panders to us, for lack of a better word. He seems to pander better to the younger generation.
Zeeble: Just outside the cafeteria, 20 year old Nick Baumann expresses similar thoughts.
Nick Baumann, age 20: Mainly the thing I want to see is a change in how things work. That's why I like Obama, I feel he'll do something a bit different.
Zeeble: These young voters, facing their first presidential election ever, are like many students attracted to Obama. Others have joined Clinton groups, or one of the youth organizations backing Republican candidates.
Political Science Professor Richard Niemi, from the University of Rochester, is an expert on the youth vote. He's visiting SMU for a few days, & says young voters have heard a lot about Obama and want to know more.
Niemi: Is he really that good a speaker? And so he has been attracting them and I think particularly among young people.
It's almost corny to say it now, cause its been used over and over but the business of change that everyone has picked up on. And young people, they seem to like that, that word. We're new and so anything else that's new might be a good thing.
Zeeble: Still, Niemi says many young voters may pick another candidate. Democrat Ian Winston, who's 21 year-old, is among them.
Ian Winston, student: It seems he has the lead, but I would prefer that Hillary make it into the primary election just because you're really kind of taking your chances when you go for a freshman senator, with barely any experience outside the state legislature.
Zeeble: For many of these teens and 20-somethings, issues that worry them are the same that might worry their folks or grandparents. The economy, programs like Social Security or medicare, the war in Iraq. For 17 year old high schooler Nick Bakewell, who turns 18 in 4 days, the war's an immediate issue.
Nick Bakewell, student: I'm really concerned about there being a draft being a reality. I would love to not have that happen. It's important we pull out of Iraq as soon as possible. Which is why Republicans don't appeal to me.
Zeeble: But Republicans do appeal to young voters, including Serge Khachatrian who's 26. He likes Ron Paul. One of the student's pet issues is the war on drugs.
Serge Khachatrian : Its not going anywhere. People who are going to smoke weed are going to smoke weed. People who do coke will do coke and they'll do it in their bedroom or home. I don't want to pay for it. If they want to pay with their lives, with their own health issues, let them, you know?
Zeeble: Research shows the number of voters under 30 is nearing 50 million. They could prove a powerful force here in Texas March 4th and later this fall. Bill Zeeble KERA news.