For election 08, youth voter turnout swells
Their numbers surged in the Iowa and New Hampshire contests. Will the trend continue?
(Page 2 of 2)
Despite all the enthusiasm, political analysts note that since 1972 young voters have been notoriously unreliable. Just ask Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont who staked his 2004 presidential bid on the youth vote only to be knocked out as a contender early in Iowa. Even with Mr. Dean's loss, more young people voted in 2004 than in 2000.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Here's a snapshot of what's been going on with young people ages 18 to 29 since 1972, according to The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE). That year the Vietnam War and the draft prompted 55 percent of young people to come out and pull a lever for the candidate of their choice.
Then came Watergate and the youth turnout steadily declined for two decades, bottoming out at 40 percent in 1996 and 2000. It ticked up again when Bill Clinton first ran for president in 1992, but then dropped back down until 2000. Since then, at least for presidential elections, an increasing number of young people have come out to vote.
"We certainly are seeing something going on with young people," says Thomas Patterson, a political scientist at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. "If you're making a list of the things you'd like to [attribute] for the shift, Iraq is by far at the top of the list – George Bush is second."
The fact that both parties have active presidential campaigns with open races also helps, says Professor Patterson. Then there's technology. The Millennials are the wired generation, the scions of Facebook and MySpace social-networking websites. Voter mobilization groups like Declare Yourself and Rock the Vote are using them to demystify the political process, from registration to issues explanation. Each organization also hopes to register 2 million new young voters by the general election in November.
"Young people are also pioneering new online tools to connect up with other folks," says Karlo Marcelo, a researcher at CIRCLE at the University of Maryland in College Park. "I just saw this really neat tool called Vote Poke. You can enter in the name and address of a friend of yours and find out if they're registered to vote. If not, you can send them a note, saying 'Here's how you register online.' There are such simple things you can do now."
Despite the activity, young Americans still vote at lower levels than their older siblings, parents, and grandparents. But Mr. Marcelo and others are optimistic that this could be the year that changes and young people pass the 50 percent mark and close the gap with older generations.
But that excitement extends only on the presidential and congressional levels, according to analysts. In local elections turnout has been "abysmal," particularly for the young. "They've become selective shoppers: they believe presidential politics is worth their time – the rest of it, not so much," says Patterson.
• Staff writer Ben Arnoldy contributed to this report in Las Vegas.