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Young Voters a Complex and Growing Force

According to a Tufts University report, 51 percent of Americans aged 18-29 years voted in the 2008 presidential election – and almost 2 million more voted than in 2004. The only young-voter turnouts that surpassed that were the 1972 reelection of Richard Nixon and the 1992 election of Bill Clinton.

But in the 2009 elections, an off-year event featuring just two gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia, youth turnout was down. In both Virginia and New Jersey, the share of young voters plummeted compared to the 2008 numbers. In Virginia, the turnout dropped 10 percentage points. Republicans took back both seats from Democrats.

A November poll from Harvard University showing that while 58 percent of young voters approve of President Obama’s job performance, a majority disapprove of his handling of major issues: health care reform and the war in Afghanistan.

“We’ve been tracking this generation since they came of age nearly 10 years ago and have seen young people become a political force,” said John Della Volpe, director of polling for Harvard’s Institute of Politics. “This population is not a monolith and can’t be taken for granted and should not be taken for granted.”

To sort out what the recent events say about the future of young people’s civic participation, The NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff spoke with three experts on youth voting and campaigns.

Heather Smith

executive director, Rock the Vote

“When you look at the Democratic Party, I think it’s absurd to think that they would still continue to run electoral campaigns and go out and expect to win while ignoring the exact voters who put them into office a year ago.”

Listen to more of Smith’s analysis:


Russell Dalton

political science professor, University of California, Irvine

“In these off (year) elections the youth turnout dropped by half in New Jersey, about half in Virginia, but in both of those cases you had neither the message, the messenger or the means. So it wasn’t surprising. What you had was the people who voted habitually in the past still show up.”

Listen to more of Dalton’s analysis:


Patrick Ruffini

Republican strategist and founder of Engage, a political media firm

“Now that economic issues have taken a front burner, and especially with young people hit hard, I have to think that Republicans will have to craft an agenda that’s specifically directed at creating jobs and reducing the tax burden. Especially with the deficit spending that’s going to be going on, that’s going to be borne overwhelmingly by younger voters of the next generation. People are going to be looking at that and saying, ‘Who’s got the policies that will actually get us out of this?’”

Listen to more of Ruffini’s analysis:


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