Editorial: Will This Election Get Out 'youth Vote'?

This story was written by Editorial Board, Arizona Daily Wildcat
Whatever the outcome of today's election, whether we find out the results tonight, tomorrow or a month from now, one thing is clear: This election has galvanized young voters more than any other political event of our time.

This is by no means something to take lightly. For a long time, as USA Today put it in May, "young voters have been the dog that didn't bark." Every four years a candidate promises to bring out the youth vote, and every four years young people resolutely stay home.

From 1972, the first year 18- to 20-year-olds could vote for a president, to 2004, young voters have consistently failed to come through on that first Tuesday in November.

Sometimes it's because their candidate didn't get the nomination - the students who cheered on Gov. Howard Dean in 2004 seemed decidedly less enthused about Sen. John Kerry - but even candidates with strong backing from young voters don't always get them into the voting booths. When George McGovern ran as the Democratic nominee in 1972, he and his team expected young people to show up in droves. After all, McGovern was relatively young and opposed the Vietnam War.

As it turned out, on Election Day slightly more voters in the 18-to-24 range voted for McGovern's opponent, Richard Nixon.

It's too soon to say for certain whether this year will be different. But there are promising signs that it will be.

A recent national poll cited by U.S. News and World Report showed that 79 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds surveyed were registered to vote. It's hard to find anyone on campus who doesn't have an opinion on the race, and it's getting hard to find someone who isn't registered to vote.

Some observers argue that the slumping economy has charged young people with such interest in the election, but that seems unlikely. Young people don't generally own their own homes or invest in the stock market. As for the war in Iraq, the same poll showed that it had plummeted as a major concern for young voters.

The real reason is simpler. This election is that rarest of all creatures in American history -an election in which the issues are relatively clear and both candidates have distinguishable stances.

For all the talk about Sen. Barack Obama's "cult of personality" - or Sen. John McCain's - this is an election primarily based on the issues.

Elections aren't usually like this. Usually, both candidates are eager to be as vague and nonspecific as possible - the better to snag undecided voters.

Political writer Garry Wills once dismissed them as our "meaningless elections," noting that even in the undeniably important election of 1932, Franklin Roosevelt never revealed his New Deal plan or even said much about his strategy for ending the Great Depression.

This semester, the Daily Wildcat has gotten numerous letters from fans of both major candidates. The arguments have been terse, fierce and fiery. Most strikingly, they've been focused more on the issues than the personalities.

Students, as far as we can tell, shrug off tales of Obama's alleged links to anti-American types; they're more concerned about the implications of his economic policies. Nor do they care about McCain's personal life; they care about his foreign policy.

Interestingly, we haven't received a single letter from someone who insisted that they were indifferent to the result of the election, or that the two candidates seemed indistinguishable to them.

That's a remarkable change from 2000, when the most vocal sentiment among the young was that there was little real difference between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Itt's also a far cry from 2004, when Kerry's supporters tended to emphaize Bush's flaws rather than their candidate's virtues.

Obama's supporters have been far more enthusiastic about their candidate than any in recent memory - more enthusiastic, perhaps, than any candidate's supporters since Robert Kennedy in 1968. For his supporters, the possibility of Obama's election promises a new beginning for politics and a chance for their own voices to be heard.

McCain's supporters, too, have ample reason to turn out to the polls - particularly here in Arizona, where national polls show a surprisingly close race between him and Obama. McCain's supporters among the young are fiercely attracted to McCain's inspiring life story and his image as a fighting reformer.

For once, the hype isn't unjustified: this just might be the most important election of our time.

Regardless of where you stand, there's no excuse for not seizing your most basic right as an American citizen today and telling the world who you want to serve as the 44th president of the United States.

It's time for this generation to put up or shut up.
  • CBSNews

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