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US Presidential Primaries Inspire Record High Voter Turnout

Experts say voter turnout for the U.S. presidential primaries will set a new record this year. Local election officials report a registration boom largely favoring the Democratic Party. Millions of people have registered to vote for the first time. But analysts say the record primary turnout does not necessarily predict a record turnout for the general election. Leta Hong Fincher has more.

U.S. punk rock band "Against Me!" is urging young people to vote in a public service announcement, distributed by the nonpartisan young voter group, Rock the Vote.

The organization is running the largest youth voter registration campaign in U.S. history and reports it has helped turn out young people in record numbers in this year's presidential primaries.

Heather Smith, executive director of Rock the Vote in Washington, says, "This year, in 2008, it has been just unbelievable. We have had turnout in every single primary, every single caucus, either double, triple, or quadruple compared to four years ago."

Exit polls show that Senator Barack Obama of the Democratic Party has won the bulk of support among young voters who had not participated in the political process before.

But it is not just the young who are voting in record numbers.

An Associated Press survey in May shows that more than 3.5 million new voters have registered to take part in the presidential primaries. Registration is up among African Americans and women, rural and city dwellers.

"It is really unprecedented," says Scott Keeter, head of survey research at the Pew Research Center in Washington. "The number of people voting, especially on the Democratic side,- far outstrips anything that we have ever seen in American politics," Keeter said.

Republican party voters also set new records for turnout in the early primaries. That was before Senator John McCain defeated the other Republican contenders. Keeter says new voter registration now largely favors the Democratic Party. He credits the intense interest in the contest between Senator Obama, who would be the nation's first African American president; and Senator Hillary Clinton, who would be the first woman.

Keeter adds, "The fact that this campaign in the Democratic primary has remained competitive and really is going down to the wire, as they say, is part of the reason why we're seeing such high levels of turnout."

But campaign experts warn that high voter turnout in the primaries may not lead to record turnout in the general election.

Curtis Gans, the director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University in Washington, states, "You cannot predict turnout. If I were looking at it at this time, I would say that turnout [in the general election] will be high, but not necessarily higher than it was in 2004."

Gans says that if Obama becomes the Democratic nominee, as most analysts now expect, there will likely be some falloff in support among Democrats who voted for Clinton. Gans adds, Obama will have to appeal more to white working class voters if he is to defeat McCain in November.