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A History Of The Youth Vote

This story was written by Carl Jaeger, Badger Herald


During past elections, young voters were often ignored by politicians who didnt think their votes were worth campaigning for.

Candidates failed to address issues of concern for young people, leading many to believe politicians didnt understand their concerns, in turn leading young people to often disregard the importance of voting.

But during the 2004 presidential election, 49 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 cast ballots, a 9 percent increase from 2000.

And nearly 6.5 million voters between the ages of 18 and 29 participated in the 2008 primaries and caucuses across the country up 8 percent from a comparable election cycle in 2000.

Young people are currently targeted in communication methods most familiar to them including text messages and e-mails and states across the country have had a surge in new voter registrations, including 29-year-olds and those younger.

People are talking about the youth vote and their potential influence on the election outcome, but whether young voters across the country chose to voice their votes wont be known until Election Day.

History of the youth vote

(UWIRE) -- With the ratification of the 26th Amendment on July 1, 1971, the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18.

In the 1972 presidential election between incumbent president Richard Nixon and Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D., a record 52 percent of individuals between 18 and 21 cast ballots, but voting among young people would soon drop significantly.

The spike was the initial excitement, said Kristen Oshyn, program assistant at the Century Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy research institution. They came out but didnt necessarily sway the election, and therefore the candidates said, Well, its not quite enough, and so they still didnt get the attention they needed to maintain the interest.

Voter turnout among young voters reached its lowest point in the 1990s, Oshyn said, but soon started to climb upward.

The number of young people who voted in the 2004 presidential election increased 11 percentage points from four years prior 36 percent to 47 percent and young voter turnout in midterm elections also rose.

Despite the increase, Oshyn said reliability among young voters was still in question.

Howard Dean, who unsuccessfully ran for president in 2004, initially sparked interest among young people through use of technology but wasnt able to successfully mobilize the voters offline, Oshyn said.

But for the 2008 election, the youth has been targeted and has become politically engaged in unprecedented ways.

Catching imaginations

(UWIRE) -- University of Wisconsin political science professor David Canon said multiple factors have sparked political interest among young voters, including the youths concern over the nations economic future and views on the war in Iraq.

But one factor or person has sparked young peoples interest more than anything else: Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Certainly the Obama candidacy has really just caught the imagination of a lot of young voters, Canon said. I think just the generation differences between Obama and McCain young voters just see Obama speaking more to their concerns than McCain.

The Obama campaign has hired youth coordinators in 14 swing states and has opened campaign offices on nearly all major university campuses, Oshyn said, and the campaign is focused on targeting young through a blanketing technique where they essentially target all young voters.

With these efforts, Obaa supporters have already been voting and are then focusing their efforts on getting more people to vote on Nov. 4.

The Obama campaign has been very successful in getting out the young vote in targeted areas and organizing them to work on each other, Oshyn said.

Matthew Lehrich, deputy communications director for Wisconsins Obama campaign, said enthusiasm among young voters and Obamas effort to reach out to all voters account for the strong support.

Weve been told over and over again, Oh, you know, young people arent going to turn out or People also say young people will turn out and they dont, Lehrich said. But the reality is young people are turning out for Sen. Obama, and I think that goes back to seeing somebody who can really bring about the kind of change were looking for.

He added many voters have been growing up during the last eight years in an environment where they really want a significant change.

Lehrich said young people are becoming more concerned about issues including health care and the environment and believe Obama is able to solve these problems.

I think that people see in Sen. Obama somebody who can really break the gridlock in Washington and bring about the kind of change were really looking for so were not passing these problems on to the next generation, Lehrich said.

The Obama campaign has also targeted voters in new ways, from releasing vice presidential running mate Joe Bidens pick via text message, to sending out e-mail reminders about poll hours and locations.

While the Obama campaign is still reaching voters through phone calls or going door-to-door, Lehrich said young voters are often comfortable getting information in ways they use, such as through e-mail or text message.

Its about using every possible way to reach people, Lehrich said. Fundamentally, it doesnt change were still letting them know about events and issues, but if technology is available, why not use it to reach out to people?

Ami ElShareif, chair of UW Students for Obama, said students connect with Obama because in addition to relating to him, he speaks about issues important to them.

This election has showed me that people really do want to become engaged, Elshareif said. And if they are given a leader who motivates them, then they will become a part of the electoral process.

John McCain

(UWIRE) -- While the Obama campaign has received significant attention for their efforts to reach young voters, theres a smaller but nonetheless vocal group of students working for Republican presidential nominee John McCain.

I would definitely say were at a disadvantage on our campus because we dont have the numbers to compete with the Obama campaign, said Katie Nix, Wisconsin chair for Students for McCain. But aside from that, weve tried to make due with what we have and make an impact despite being a smaller effort.

Working out of a McCain campaign center in Fitchburg, Nix said student supporters of McCain have been canvassing and making phone calls.

In an effort to reach students, Nix said Students for McCain has been distributing fliers on campaign issues and writing editorials to student newspapers.

Both candidates dont do a very good job of getting how they stand out there, so we have really tried to explain the issues to people and get out in the public and focus on voter education, Nix said.

Nix added there is a really negative undertone on campus toward conservatives, and thats just really been apparent in everything weve done in the public.

While the McCain campaign is campaigning less to young voters than the Obama campaign, the campaign is ocusing on attracting the demographic.

The McCain campaign has national youth coordination, Oshyn said, and is focusing more on campaigning in locations that are particularly conservative, including certain fraternities and at football games across the country.

When McCain admitted in a New York Times article this summer that he needed assistance using the Internet, Oshyn said she believes the comment did not make or break the campaign for young voters but rather dated McCain.

I think that a lot of young voters are frustrated that he could be so unknowledgeable about it when its such a strong presence in their own lives, she said.

UW College Republicans Chair Sara Mikolajczak said McCain supporters are set to drop campaign literature, knock on doors and phone voters up until the election, as well as lend their support for Republican candidates running in state campaigns.

They keep telling us that phone calls win elections, so were letting people know they have to vote on Nov. 4 and they have to vote for John McCain on Nov. 4., Mikolajczak said.

Will it matter?

(UWIRE) -- With young voters becoming more energized in the 2008 presidential election, questions still remain: Will they show up to the polls on Nov. 4? Will their votes make a difference?

Voters between 18- and 29-years-old will make up 22 percent of eligible voters for the 2008 presidential election, Oshyn said, adding there is always potential they could significantly affect the election, but to what degree is yet to be seen.

They definitely made an impact in some of the primaries, she said. In the Iowa caucuses, for example, young voters pulled through and really made it for Obama.

Oshyn said the enthusiasm this election has created may cause voters of all demographics to flood the polls on Election Day.

Theres so much excitement with this election that everybody all the different age groups and populations might show up at larger rates, Oshyn said. And so even if the young voters come out at a drastically higher rate then they did in the past, their share of the electorate still could potentially be smaller.

But not everyone is convinced Americas youth will show up to the polls on Nov. 4.

A Gallop poll released Oct. 31 found turnout for the 2008 election will be high compared to historical turnout rates, but the increase will most likely not be significantly higher than the 2004 election. The poll also found that even if more young voters register to vote, they do not appear to be more interested in the campaign or voting than they were in 2004.

Canon said it was quite possible young voters could significantly affect the election if they in fact turn out in the high numbers many are predicting, adding the use of new, technological methods to reach voters may also remain.

I think most presidential candidates wrote off the youth vote in the past because young voters didnt vote, so why waste all your time and energy trying to reach a group of voters who arent going to turn out? Canon said. Well, if they do turn out this time and Obama is successful, I think that might change the way politicians strategize on this.

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