With primaries in full swing and the November elections drawing near, a seemingly unlikely constituency is being given an increasing amount of attention. Today’s youth has unfortunately been heir to the politically apathetic Generation-X stereotype. According to non-partisan groups such as The Center for American Progress, however, this stereotype is not only unfair, but largely inaccurate.
Campus Progress, which is The Center’s comprehensive effort to encourage young voters to make themselves heard, hosted the “Super Tuesday and Youth Vote” event on January 29th. This panel discussion addressed the rise of the youth vote and its impact on the 2008 elections so far. The discussion was mediated by Erica Williams, Issues Campaign Manager of Campus Project Action, and featured:
1) Kat Barr, director of education at Rock the Vote (a non-partisan, non-profit organization for political advocacy.
2) Karlo Barrios Marcelo, research associate at the Center of Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).
3) LaToia Jones, executive director of College Democrats of America.
4) Ethan Eilon, executive director of College Republican National Committee.
Williams began by asking the panelists to specify what is meant by the term “youth vote”. Marcelo answered that the general definition of “youth voters” is in reference to first-time voters. He explained that the strict categorization of the “youth vote” fluctuates; sometimes it refers to the 18-24 age brackets, other times it encompasses the ages of 18-29. In the past, Marcelo continued, the 18-24 definition had generally been used to define the youth vote. However, as he wryly stated, “nowadays we tend to use the 18-29 definition, since this present generation has had a longer developmental stage.” This comment was met with chuckles throughout the 20-something-aged audience.
Williams next referred to a recent Associated Press article titled “Will the youth have an impact?” which discusses the resurgence in political interest among young Americans. Barr responded that the youth will, indeed, play a crucial role in the 2008 elections. She reminded the audience that the young voters have already played a vital role this year. “Youth voter turnout has tripled in Iowa and nearly tripled in New Hampshire. Young voters were actually crucial in Iowa to the victories of (Barak) Obama and (Mike) Huckabee, and in New Hampshire for (Hillary) Clinton,” Barr explained.
Eilon pointed out that this year marks the most open primaries since the 1920s, on both sides of the race. He stressed the role of the Republican Party in stirring interest among young Americans, by emphasizing the importance of “stimulating the economy” as a means of creating new jobs. This, according to Eilon, is something that is of particular interest to young college students and graduates. It increases incentive to vote since one’s personal interest is directly at stake. Barr agreed with this, by noting that the youth want “to hear from candidates about issues that are relevant to their lives.”
Jones credited the popularity of the Democrats among young voters (over 60 percent of voters in the 18-29 demographic affiliate themselves with the Democratic Party) with the idea that “Democrats tend to be more open to change, and are not stuck in the past.” She acknowledged that Democrats tend to be “more liberal, open to everybody’s mindset,” and do not cater to one specific portion of the population. This, Jones said, makes it easier for a diverse young generation to relate to politics and become more active.
Marcelo conceded that college youth have higher turnout rates, stressing that education and political interest are strongly correlated. However, he pointed out that “in 2000-2004, the entire youth vote marked an increase, and this includes non-college youths.” Marcelo attributed this uniform increase of interest to the present generation’s willingness to invest “more energy into politics” in comparison to the aforementioned Gen-Xers.
Barr stressed that the increase in youth voter turnout is in large part thanks to the efforts of non-partisan groups, including Rock the Vote. She attributed the success of these groups to “peer-to-peer outreach, which encourages young people to register. It is very important that they register, because in 2004 more than 80 percent of registered youths turned up to vote.” Barr explained that web programs are now being used to recruit voters. MySpace and Facebook, for example, which are becoming increasingly important in young persons’ lives, can prove to be effective tools in increasing political awareness. “We are still testing them, but we know that there is a lot of opportunity there,” Barr concluded.
Marcelo agreed with Barr’s explanation of the importance of non-partisan groups. He described their sudden surge of popularity in 2004, and the mission of these groups to “help people develop a positive relationship with politics at a young age, so that they will be more engaged and active in their adult lives.”
The panelists uniformly agreed that non-partisan groups’ outreach is incredibly important in keeping the current momentum going. They also stressed the importance of such groups in quelling the indifferent, self-absorbed stereotype of today’s youth. Jones emphasized that getting involved in elections should become a matter of habit. “There are elections every year: school elections, community elections, etc. It is important to become involved on a deeper level, and not reserve voting for once every four years.”
Barr’s closing statement placed a final emphasis on the importance of the youth vote in the upcoming elections: “2008 is the year of the youth vote. Whoever wins in November will be the person who successfully mobilizes the youth.”
For more information on The Center for American Progress, visit www.americanprogress.org
To view testimonials by young voters discussing their experiences, or if you wish to post your own testimonial, go to www.imvotingfor.org.