As the controversy rages over the recent decision to bar Ross Perot from this year's presidential debates, one group of voters - Americans under 30 - are no doubt among the most disappointed. They, after all, have consistently been Ross Perot's greatest supporters.
In 1992, a whopping 22 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 supported Perot, as compared with 19 percent among voters of all age groups. This year, polls show Perot receiving twice the support among younger voters than he's getting overall. One major survey of the under-30 age group, conducted in July by the Garin-Hart research group, showed him not only receiving levels of support similar to '92, but actually beating Bob Dole in the key swing states of Michigan and New Jersey.
Even now, with Perot's numbers down to 5 percent according to some surveys, he is still pulling in double-digit levels of support among the 18- to 29-year-old crowd. With this in mind, the impact of excluding Perot from the presidential debates becomes even greater. To keep him off the national stage is to risk alienating a significant number of America's newest voters, many of whom may now choose not to participate in November.
Such an impact would be detrimental to the democratic process and could prove devastating to the political voice of the post-baby boom generation, one that will be taken seriously by politicians only to the extent that voter turnout remains high.
The last presidential election appeared to mark the beginning of a resurgence in youth participation in the political process. Nearly half of voters under 30 cast ballots, the highest level in 20 years. But 1994 was less encouraging. Youth turnout fell to 12 percent, explained by experts as the product of mid-term elections in which turnout among all age groups is typically low.
This time around, there won't be any good excuses. Anything that can help send this group to the polls on Nov. 5 is of value. Excluding him from the nationally televised presidential debates has undercut an indispensable part of the process.
*Alex Abrams, political analyst for MTV News, is co-author of "Late Bloomers: Coming of Age in Today's America, the Right Place at the Wrong Time."