US elections 2010: Glee singers strike discord

The vocal stylings and voting intentions of the Glee Club

Voters across the US go to the polls next week for the country's mid-term elections. The outcome will affect how easy it is for President Barack Obama to pass laws. In the second in a series Rajini Vaidyanathan has been gauging opinion across America - by speaking to some of the real life versions of well known TV characters.

They look and sound like they've walked straight off the set of Glee.

Young, preppy, and attractive, they deliver their vocals in pitch perfect harmony.

But this group of singers couldn't be further from Hollywood.

Thousands of miles away in Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania's a capella group - the Counterparts, are rehearsing.

As they break into a version of Journey's Don't Stop Believing, they sound just like Finn, Rachel and the rest of New Directions - the fictional vocal group in Glee, screened in the UK on Channel 4.

But for the Counterparts, the song's idealistic lyrics have added resonance.

All of them are slightly older than the gang at the fictional William McKinley High school. Aged 18 to 21 many of the Counterparts voted for the first time in 2008.

Political rockstar

"I voted for Barack Obama because I wanted change," explains Johnny Lloyd, who sings tenor in the group. "At the time it was important to have a sense of hope coming off the Bush years," he says.

Start Quote

Rebecca Cook

His speeches were like concerts, and I think that appealed to a lot of young people”

End Quote Rebecca Cook

Johnny's desire for a change from the Republican party, was one which was shared by many others who cast their ballot for the first time two years ago. Young voters heavily favoured the Democratic candidate Barack Obama, compared with his Republican rival John McCain.

Exit polls from that election showed 66% of the under 30s voted for Mr Obama compared with a 31% share for John McCain.

"He's sort of a political rockstar," says 21-year-old Rebecca Cook who also voted for the White House's current resident.

"His speeches were like concerts, and I think that appealed to a lot of young people."

Rebecca's mother is a Republican who worked for former President Ronald Reagan, so her decision to choose their rival party the Democrats, was met with a lot of disapproval around the dinner table.

But two years into his presidency, Rebecca is wondering whether she made the right decision.

Hope into policy

"More now than at the time I'm beginning to hear their criticism," she says. "I think he used a lot of language that was hollow - hope is not a policy, it's just an emotion."

"There really isn't a concrete idea of what is going on with this administration."

Stars of the TV series Glee Stars of the TV series Glee - perhaps less troubled by politics than their counterparts at the University of Pennsylvania

Rebecca's switch from idealism to indecision is shared by other young people. A recent poll of 18-24 year olds conducted by MTV suggested the president's personal approval rating had fallen.

The Associated Press-mtvU poll conducted in September showed his ratings among college students stood at 44%, compared with 60% in May of last year.

"It is hard to make hope translate into political policy," says Johnny, who still has faith in Mr Obama.

"I think some of his policies have moved slower than some people would prefer but personally I'm OK with that. Politics in this country can take a while, but when you're a young person, things are so fast with us and so new.

"When you see something that takes a year you're like 'this is taking a little bit too long'."

Turn-out fears

If the latest polls are to believed then this impatience could translate into indifference in the upcoming mid-term elections, which will see Americans vote for senators, congressmen and governors.

Rajini Vaidyanathan's election TV series

  • Friday: Desperate Housewives
  • Monday: Glee
  • Tuesday: The Simpsons

In a recent study into the youth vote by the Pew Research Center which surveyed 2,816 registered voters, 45% of voters under age 30 said they would definitely vote in this year's elections, compared with 76% of voters ages 30 and older. This is a drop from 2006, the last time mid-term congressional elections were held, where the figure stood at 48% vs 71%.

If there is a lower turnout among the under 30s it is the Democratic candidates who will suffer the most, argues Joe Tierney, who is the Executive Director of Penn Leads the Vote, which runs student led initiatives on campus.

"The youth vote is one of the more reliably Democratic constituencies. So if they don't turn out it could significantly hurt the Democratic candidates prospects of winning."

But as Mr Tierney explains the biggest challenge is "winning the registration war, but losing the election day battle" - trying to encourage young voters to remember to turn up and vote once they have registered.

It is a battle Barack Obama is trying his best to win. The president has been touring campuses to rally young people to support local candidates. He also appeared on MTV to take questions from younger voters. Mr Obama also gave an interview to Rolling Stone magazine.

But if Rebecca is anything to go by, all this might not make a difference. She won't be voting next week because she doesn't feel as passionate about the issues as she did in 2008. On the other hand, Johnny will be casting a ballot for the Democrats again. Only one member of the Counterparts, Ashley Catalano-Leckerman, says she will vote Republican next week.

But others, like 19-year-old Will Connell won't be able to vote, because they can't.

"I missed the deadline for the mid-terms, and I regret the fact," he laments

Despite receiving notices in the post Will simply didn't get round to registering. The fact they're not Presidential elections meant they "fell by the wayside".

While Barack Obama isn't on the ballot on 2 November, his fate will in some part be decided by the outcome. If his Democratic party loses control of the Senate or the House of Representatives, it will make it much harder for him to govern.

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