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Column: Politicians Don't Pander To Youth Due To Lack Of Uniting Issues

This story was written by Zack Beauchamp, Brown Daily Herald


Why don't candidates ever pander to the youth vote?

You'll often hear discussion about how much we love Barack Obama or speculation concerning whether "this will finally be the year when the youth come to the polls," but you won't hear about policies designed to appeal to young people. The closest we'll get to that are cringe-worthy attempts at "reaching out" like the video "McCain Cribs Exclusive: The Straight Talk Express" or -- shudder -- "Vote or Die."

Evidently we have a credibility problem, because no one wants to take us seriously.

No demographic as electorally powerful as we are should have this issue. According to the Census Bureau's 2006 American Community survey, between 15 and 20 percent of Americans fall in the 18 to 29 age range.

That's an enormous number of people. To give you some perspective, Jewish voters, a group whose interests both candidates have contested bitterly (in the vice presidential debate, Israel was mentioned over five times as often as China, Europe, Russia, Britain, France and Germany combined), make up about two percent of the population --that's about ten times as many young people as Jews, and yet the relative time spent by the campaigns courting each group is reversed.

This disparity could be attributed to young Americans not having any one "pet issue" for campaigns to focus on. Unlike Jewish voters, who have Israel, and Hispanic voters, who have immigration, we simply aren't unified enough in our political interests for campaigns to know how to pander to us.

This is simply wrong. The assumption behind this claim -- that all Jews vote primarily on Israel and all Hispanics vote primarily on immigration -- ignores the broad spectrum of internal diversity in both demographics. Examples are plentiful.

Secular Jews tend to weigh what they perceive to be in Israel's interests far less heavily than Orthodox Jews (an American Jewish Committee poll of a group primarily composed of secular Jews found that only three percent of respondents felt Israel's security was the top issue in the election). Hispanics of Mexican descent care far more about immigration than those with ancestry from Cuba and Puerto Rico. I could go on.

While it may be accurate to say that Jews and Hispanics on average care more about Israel and immigration than most Americans, it's wrong to say that their views on the issue are monolithic. To find an analogous issue among youth that would justify giving us the same type of special attention these groups get, you need to find something that we care about more on average than most Americans.

That's education. Thirteen percent of young voters believe that "the education system" is the "biggest problem" facing the United States in the next 20 years. This may seem small, but compared to the three percent of Jews who think Israel's security is the number one concern, it's enormous.

Further, we seem to think that the candidates aren't doing nearly enough on the issue -- 59 percent of young voters believe that education "was not being talked about enough" in the election, and 57 percent felt the same about college costs and student-loan policies specifically. And yet, as Mike Huckabee noted during his excellent speech at Brown last week, almost no attention has been paid to education over the course of the campaign.

Nor is education the only issue candidates could talk about to appeal to our demographic. Like the rest of the country, young voters place the economy as electoral priority number one. Unlike other voters, we're especially concerned with the candidates' plans to create jobs for younger workers, and we're not happy with what they've said: A scant 29 percent of young voters think the presidential candiates are spending sufficient time talking about the issue.

So if young voters are a large voting bloc with specific political concerns that candidates can appeal to, why don't they target us in the same way that they do other groups? The answer: They don't think we're serious enough.

A recent piece in the Economist sums up the conventional view of young voters: We're "notoriously unreliable," "indifferent" and "(turn) out at a lower rate" than other age groups.

Note the last description, because it's the reason for the first two. Our history of laziness on Election Day has neutered our political might and caused issues that we care about to be sidelined. This is our fault. Nobody is keeping us from the ballot box and yet we can't seem to be bothered to show up and vote. Consequently, the rest of the country treats us like we don't matter.

Want to do something about it? Put down the paper and head over to Salomon. We have a unique opportunity this year, given all of the discussion about whether the youth vote really will turn out, to demonstrate our political relevance. Let's not squander it.

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