Turning out to vote

That more voters than usual, including young people, turned out in the bitter cold of New Hampshire and Iowa is an encouraging sign. In fact, 55 percent of Iowa voters had never attended a caucus. In New Hampshire, 16 percent were first-timers.

In the 2000 presidential election, only about a third of the 40 million young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 eligible to vote fulfilled their civic duty. If even 2 million more vote in November, it could easily tip the election. No wonder so much Republican and Democratic effort is being spent to attract young people.

A recent MTV survey showed a 30 percent increase in young people who say they will "definitely" vote this year. In Iowa, younger voters turned out in record numbers (17 percent of caucusgoers overall), or four times the number of those who did so in 2000.

In New Hampshire, 14 percent of younger voters turned out, and split their votes for the top three candidates this way: Dean, 34 percent; Kerry, 33 percent; Clark, 12 percent. According to a Newsweek poll, that split reflects the one seen among all primary voters in the US.

Could it be young voters are more politically aware and active? There's some anecdotal evidence that suggests the tight job market, high college and healthcare costs, along with the war in Iraq are motivating young voters.

A new University of California study reveals political awareness among college freshmen up this year for a third year in a row, and the highest since 1994. That reverses a steady drop in interest just prior to 2000. Though their preferences are skewing slightly more conservative than the university's last survey, about half said they had middle-of-the-road views.

The need for citizens of any age to make informed judgments about candidates of course remains paramount. But so early on in the 2004 race, it's good to see young people taking their role as citizens more seriously, and more new voters participating.

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