Voter Turnout Low, Apathy High Among Youngest Age Bracket

This story was written by Max Schneider, Daily Bruin
Despite the election-related frenzy that has invaded campus, a large number of students have chosen to remain unregistered and largely uninvolved with the political world.

Voter turnout is by far the lowest among the youngest age group, which includes people between 18 and 24 years old, said Charles Franklin, a professor of political science at University of Wisconsin-Madison and the co-developer of Pollster.com, a Web site that offers statistics and commentary about the upcoming election.

Only 47 percent of this age group voted in the 2004 general election, an increase from the 32 percent turnout rate in 2000 but still significantly less than the 64 percent overall rate in 2004, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

A number of reasons explain why the younger generation tends to not be as motivated by the political realm.

Some students said that their lack of involvement stems from a belief that little will change in the country, regardless of who wins the presidency.

Whoever becomes president, everythings not going to be different, said Julie Jang, a third-year sociology student. I dont think theyre going to change the world.

Others said they consider one vote to be of little value, said Susan Li, the director of the Students Vote! Coalition, an organization of student groups that promotes voter registration and education.

We noticed a lot of students dont want to vote and dont want to register because they feel like it doesnt matter, Li said.

But other organizers said that they try to change this perception by promoting an optimistic outlook.

Most young people are fed up with the government, fed up with the administration, said Tristan Schulhof, the executive director and founding member of Democracy Matters, a UCLA club that promotes campaign finance reform. (But) the key is, you have to be optimistic. You cant just give up on it.

Schulhof and Li both said that educating student voters and helping them navigate through the often multilayered and complex arena of politics and campaign rhetoric is another central goal.

But some students said that the thought of understanding this world is intimidating.

I dont care enough because I dont know anything about politics, said Leeor Brahms, a first-year undeclared student. I feel like its overwhelming. ... I dont know where to start.

Franklin said that students start becoming more invested in the government as they mature, but that this is not yet a priority for many.

A nontrivial fraction of young people are just beginning to pay attention to public affairs and government, he said. They grow into the role and everything changing in their lives helps them.

Franklin added that another simple fact abets student political apathy: the fact that they rarely stay in one location for long.

One of the better predictors of voter turnout is how long youve lived in a place, he said.

Bruce Cain, the executive director of the University of California Washington Center, a political science research and academic institution, said that these issues have recurred throughout history.

Its not just this generation. Its been true of every generation, Cain said. (My generation was) less plugged into politics when we were (in college) than at age 55.

This election cycle could prove different, Cain said, adding that by reaching out to younger voters through such modern outlets as YouTube and MySpace, the two major campaigns have raised the level of political enthusiasm and involvement he sees from his students.

This helped influence the record-high turnout rate for the pimaries last February, which typically sees a much lower turnout among young voters.

Earlier this year, students came out to vote at almost double the rates of the 2000 elections primary season (17 to 9 percent), according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

If the campaigns are getting (students) to turn out, and (their) enthusiasm keeps up, we may see a higher rate of turnout, he said. It may shatter the myth of apathy.

But a higher rate of registration does not always indicate a higher turnout on election day, said Donald Saari, a professor of mathematics and economics at UC-Irvine who studies voting rules and the mechanisms of voting.

Theres often a disconnect between what the students claim and what the students actually do, Saari said. Registration is one thing, whether they vote is another.

Still, experts said that the continuing trend of increased student involvement in politics makes them expect a greater student turnout on Nov. 4.

Filling in the turnout gap between themselves and the older generations can help youthful voters swing the final outcome of the election, Cain said.

The participation of (this) age group is one of the two or three most important factors on election night, he said. Its quite possible, particularly if the election tightens, that the turnout of your age group will determine the outcome.
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