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'Other youth vote' is harder to mobilize

Young people with no college experience may be pivotal in Pennsylvania's primary on Tuesday, but will they turn out?

By Zoe TillmanContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / April 18, 2008

Youthful enthusiasm: Hillary Rodham Clinton campaigned last month in Millersville, Pa., a college town. Young people who are not in college are harder for the candidates to reach.

Charles Dharapak/AP

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Philadelphia

Twenty-year-old Mike Santini, a diesel engine mechanic from Philadelphia, won't be voting in the state's April 22 primary. Like most young voters, the economy is a big concern for Mr. Santini – especially now that his hours at work are being cut – but he doesn't feel engaged enough to cast a ballot.

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Even as young people have flocked to the polls this presidential primary season, one subset of the youth vote remains largely absentee: those ages 18 to 24 who, like Santini, have never been to college.

Here in Pennsylvania, where Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton needs to beat Sen. Barack Obama decisively to keep her presidential hopes alive, turnout will be key – including that of this "other youth vote." When it comes to young voters, college students usually get most of the campaigns' attention, but here in Pennsylvania young people with no college experience slightly outnumber college students, data show.

That has both the Clinton and the Obama camps strategizing to reach the Keystone State's young noncollege voters. Efforts include sending text-message reminders about registration and poll dates (an approach found to boost voter participation by more than 4 percent, according to a 2006 study by the New Voters Project, a nonpartisan group working to engage young voters). The campaigns are also using social-networking platforms such as Facebook and MySpace and seeking out public spaces common to young people, regardless of their education levels, such as shopping malls and bars.

The Clinton campaign recently hosted concerts and events featuring celebrities to draw a diverse crowd, says Emily Hawkins, national youth outreach coordinator for Senator Clinton's campaign. On March 22, for instance, America Ferrera, star of ABC's "Ugly Betty," hosted a voter-registration rally for Clinton supporters at a downtown Philadelphia club.

So far this election season, young voters without college backgrounds have lagged behind their college-educated counterparts at the polls. On Feb. 5, the day of the Super Tuesday sweepstakes when 20-plus states held primaries or caucuses, 79 percent of young voters had some kind of higher education under their belts and 21 percent had a high school diploma or less, according to data compiled by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).

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