Some Young Voters Warm To Presidential Contest

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

JUST don't call them the MTV generation.

That may be who Gov. Bill Clinton thought he was enticing when he appeared in a televised forum on the all-music network this month, not long after sporting sunglasses and playing his saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show.

But it will take more than a cool demeanor to win the affection, and the votes, of 18- to 25-year-olds, say members of that generation.

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Many young people don't know who they will vote for in November. Some don't know if they will vote at all. Researchers expect young adults to live up to their reputation as the group that votes less than any other generation.

What would it take to engage more young voters in the 1992 elections?

"If I thought my vote would make a difference...," says Lynn Wagenhurst, 24, a bank leasing representative from Norristown, Pa.

"If they dealt with issues I can relate to...," says Karen Ainscoe, 21, a Philadelphia department store sales clerk.

"If politicians would stop concentrating so much on what's wrong with the country and start looking at what's right about it...," says Juliet Kurchin, 22, a senior at George Washington University here.

The United States Census Bureau reports that 36 percent of young voters cast ballots in the 1988 presidential election, continuing a steady decline that started after a 50 percent turnout in 1972. A mere 12 percent of those who voted in May's primaries and caucuses were 18- to 24-year-olds, says Michael Robinson, a professor of government at Georgetown University.

No single factor is likely to galvanize young people of voting age into participating in the elections, says Ruy Teixeira, who recently completed a book on "The Disappearing American Voter."

"They see [politics] as irrelevant to their lives," he says.

Three factors contribute heavily to young people's disinterest in politics, says Melissa Fine, director of the Hughes Field Politics Center at Maryland's Goucher College. "They aren't in the habit of encountering politics on a daily basis [such as in newspapers], they aren't involved in political activities, and they aren't taught civics," she says, nor is political party identification as strong among young adults as it was a generation ago, when "families were very partisan."

But there are ways candidates could attract more young people to the process. Catering less to special-interest groups, taking more seriously issues that are close to youth, like financial aid and the national drug crisis, and making themselves more accessible are a few steps suggested by political analysts and 18- to 25-year-olds interviewed by the Monitor.

"The economy, the environment, child care, and health care. To me, that's what should be focused on," says Dominique Sillett, 19, an art student in Los Angeles.

Young voters get most of their information about politics from television news programs. Many were impressed by Mr. Clinton's MTV appearance - not because of the answers he gave, but because he was the only candidate willing to do it. "I was insulted that [President] Bush and [Ross] Perot didn't agree to it," says Suzanne Perry, 21, a 1992 graduate of Pepperdine University in California. MTV has invited both the president and Mr. Perot to appear, but so far neither has responded.

Asked about Ross Perot, young voters said they would consider voting for him but want to know more about him first.

"All I know right now is that he's got a lot of money," says Lynn Wagenhurst. She says she plans to read more about him before November.

"I think it's tremendous that [Perot] is shaking things up," says Greg Rathmell, 23, a graduate student at Georgetown University. But that doesn't mean he'll vote for Perot, he adds.

Recent polls show President Bush with a slight edge over Clinton and Perot among young voters, says Karlyn Keene, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

But that could easily change in the coming months, she adds.

Suzanne Perry, 21, says she didn't give much thought to her decision not to vote in the 1988 presidential elections. But she says that, in the last four years, she has become more aware of the impact her generation's votes might have.

"The world gets smaller as you get older, I guess," she says.

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