Unlocking the Youth Vote

EIGHTEEN- to 24-year-olds are voting much less often, according to a new survey. And that's despite highly publicized efforts to get them to the polls.

Only 42 percent of eligible voters in that age range voted in 2000, finds a study done by University of Maryland researchers. That's a troubling 13 percent drop since 1972, the first year that Americans under 21 could vote in national elections. The drop greatly exceeds the decline in total adult turnout during the same period.

How to reverse this trend? One way is just to knock on doors. A Yale University study done in 2000 showed that door-to-door canvassing raised turnout in the youth age bracket by a head-turning 8.5 percent in all but one of six cities where it was done.

But a lot more than that is needed to convince young people that even one vote can make a difference. Parents with young children, for instance, can make an early start by taking them to the polls and talking about political issues at home. Also, candidates, who too often focus on older voters, can take stances on matters important to younger people.

Eligible voters under the age of 24 represent a block of 21 million votes. They shouldn't ignore their own clout in a democracy, and neither should politicians.

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