When it comes to elections, conventional wisdom says that young
people are not worth politicians' time. Young adults don't vote,
they don't follow the news, and they are generally disengaged
from the political process.
In 2004, though, conventional wisdom was turned on its head.
With many voter activists focused on America's youth as an untapped
part of the electorate, young people did go to the polls, and
they did vote. In fact, those under 25 had the highest percentage-point
turnout increase of any age group.
Now, with many of the same issues -- Iraq, the economy, terrorism
and security -- still front and center on voters' minds, many
experts anticipate a strong showing by the country's youngest
rate of voting was 11 percentage points higher [in 2004] than
in 2000, and that's a remarkable achievement," said Andy
Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center. "That represents
a significant change in young people's politics, when you get
that much more participation in four years."
Traditionally, overlooking unreliable young voters, especially
in midterms, was sound political strategy. According to the Center
for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement,
or CIRCLE, only 22 percent of 18-29 year olds voted in the last
midterm election -- in 2002. There are 29 million eligible young
voters, though estimates vary widely as to how many are registered
"Older voters were better targets," Kohut said. "You
communicate with older voters, you're more likely to be talking
with someone who's going to go out and cast a ballot. But in recent
elections we've seen that turned on its head a bit. That will
send a signal. Political operatives will go where the votes are
and this [2004 increase] may demonstrate that this is a fertile
and worthwhile target."
Prior to 2004, turnout among 18-24 year olds had declined from
a high of 52 percent in 1972 to 36 percent in both the 1996 and
2000 presidential elections, with a brief spike in interest during
the 1992 election. But, in 2004, 47 percent of young adults went
to the polls, fully 3 million more than went to the polls in 2000.
The marked increase in 2004 was credited, in part, to concerted
get-out-the-vote efforts targeting the younger demographic. "In
2004, there were lots of efforts to get the 18 to 30s out and
voting. That was unheard of. There were ad buys targeting young
people," said Heather Smith, director of Young Voter Strategies,
a nonpartisan research and get-out-the-vote operation focused
on 18-30 year olds.
Among others, the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), College
Democrats, College Republicans, Rock the Vote and Sean "P.
Diddy" Combs' Vote or Die campaign focused on young voters.
"Keep in mind they are starting out. You've got to jump
start them. It's like beginning any process. These are people
who never voted before, who are not routine voters. A lot of what
voting is about is feeling an obligation, a sense of that's what
I have to do," Kohut said.
Smith pointed out that younger citizens sometimes just need to
be educated on the electoral process, including such details as
how primaries function and how one registers. She headed the PIRG's
nonpartisan New Voters Project in 2004, and now directs Young
Voter Strategies' efforts for the midterm.
been out registering voters, talking to young people, and they
don't even know the election is Nov. 7th and when registration
deadlines are. Young people are getting left out because they're
not the base," Smith said.
From their headquarters at George Washington University, Young
Voter Strategies staff coordinate the efforts of 15 partner organizations,
including "Women's Voices. Women's Vote.", "Vote
Latino," "Mobile Voter" and "We Care America."
To date, the project has registered over 400,000 new young voters.
"We've made it as easy as possible for both parties,"
What issues might compel Gen Nexters to go to the polls once
they are registered?
A recent GW/Battleground poll commissioned by Young Voter Strategies
found that 18-to-25 year olds are most concerned about a trio
"Winning this election among young voters is likely to come
down to who [they] trust on terrorism, Iraq and the cost of college,"
noted Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who conducted the survey
in partnership with Republican pollster Ed Goeas.
Kohut sees greater parity between older and younger voters.
"I look at the polls and trend lines, it seems that it has
to do more with a greater sense of urgency about today's issues
than anything else," Kohut said, while noting that every
age group has a unique issue, like education, but not necessarily
one that determines their vote.
Kohut said his polling indicates increased interest among young
adults. "In 2002 only 27 percent of people 18-25 said they
had given a lot of thought to the congressional elections. Today
that percentage is 48 percent -- very much higher. And that suggests
that we may again see higher turnout among this generation in
this congressional election, as we did in the last presidential
The Battleground poll asked respondents to list which political
party they thought could do a better job of addressing their concerns.
With the exception of "homeland security and terrorism,"
the Democrats led in all categories by wide margins.
Further, in the 2004 presidential election, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)
won the 18-24 age group by 56 percent to President Bush's 43 percent.
However, while polling suggests strong support for Democrats,
young Republicans have traditionally been more reliable voters.
"The turnout question for the Democrats is the big one --
they have to turn them out," said Young Voter Strategies'
Smith. "The ray of hope for Republicans is that there is
a set of young people who are very intensely Republican, and are
more likely to vote."
In Ohio, a known battleground state, 21-year-old Ernest Jackson
said he's fed up with politicians on both sides of the aisle.
Jackson is a senior at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Columbus.
"I'm registered to vote. I can't wait to vote, but in Ohio
there's a lot of mudslinging. I'm waiting for 2008, because I
don't feel anything is going to get accomplished (now),"
"Personally, because I'm broke and in college, I want to
see someone address the tuition issues and Pell grants. I'm poor;
everything I do I pay for on my own. With tuition rates going
up each year, it makes it hard," said Jackson. He added that
he has yet to see any politicians really address his primary concern,
which has left him less than thrilled with his choices.
Jackson describes himself as "liberal," but will most
likely vote for Sen. Mike DeWine, the Republican incumbent. Jackson
feels DeWine's television ads have been less negative. "He
hasn't messed me up. Everyone else is mudslinging. There's no
real substance." Most of Jackson's other votes will go to
Jackson would like to see Democrats take control of one house
of Congress. "I think there needs to be that diversity in
[It] will lead to things getting changed because
they will have to work with one another."
Nevada, Mo. resident Meredith Hoberock, 19, attends the University
of Arkansas, but is still registered to vote in her hometown.
She calls herself a "strong Republican" and said she
plans to attend a rally featuring President Bush before the election.
She did not miss the opportunity to vote in her first primary.
She has already sent in her absentee ballot in support of Jim
Talent, the state's incumbent Republican senator, who is in a
close race with Democrat Claire McCaskill.
Hoberock said she knows Iraq is on voters' minds but hopes people
consider other factors as well. "Gas prices have gone down,
the stock market is doing well. People are going to look at these
things, not just Iraq."
"We can't go ahead and back out of Iraq. It's important
that we stand behind our president even if we don't agree with
everything he does."
Hoberock said Talent's opposition to a statewide ballot measure
on stem cell research was a key issue for her.
"I really hope the Republicans pull through. I know it's
going to be a close race."
Virginia, where incumbent Republican Sen. George Allen and Democratic
challenger James Webb are locked in one of the year's most contested
senate races, 23-year-old Eric Penley said that he's voting for
Webb in part as an "anti-administration" statement.
Penley considers himself "left leaning." He has voted
for both Democrats and Republicans in the past.
"I plan to vote for Webb. I prefer his stances on issues
-- especially foreign policy, Iraq. I'm not a huge fan of Allen,"
Among other concerns, Penley said he has been disappointed by
Congress' failure to address the rising cost of entitlement programs.
"My view of Congress is not favorable. My biggest problem
is not so much the current deficit, but the lack of resolve to
deal with social security and Medicare.
are going to be the ones who have to deal with the tax increases
or decreases in benefits when the time comes."
"I think there's an abnormally high amount of interest in
this election. My sense is that this election is more important
than most," Penley said.
-- By Jeff Nelson, Generation Next