Wooing the Young'uns

Choice America President Kate Michelman, left, speaks with Chris #2 (cq), center, and Justin Sane, right, of PunkVoter.com as they announce the launch of a youth outreach partnership at the 9:30 Club in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 29, 2004.
AP
Dotty Lynch is the Senior Political Editor for CBS News. E-mail your questions and comments to Political Points

On Wednesday, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi found herself caught in a headlock by professional wrestler Victoria. This weekend, women in Washington were warmed-up for their march by the Butchies, the Lunachicks and Anti-Flag.

Welcome to the hottest thing in politics – generational change and wooing the young'uns. The grand dames of the women's march – feminist stalwarts like Kate Michelman, Ellie Smeal, Gloria Steinem – are being grand-mothered. The glitzy materials put out by the groups make it clear there's a new generation of women who aren't necessarily motivated by the same buzz words as the bra-burning crowd. Privacy, truth, family and loving pro-choice boys are the words that surround the fresh-faced girls in the brochure that looks more like Marie Claire than a manifesto. And the NARAL Web site, in conjunction with Punkvoter, offered those who found political t-shirts too yesterday some temporary tattoos for the march down the mall.

The Pelosi headlock was part of a Next Generation Democratic Summit put on by Smackdown Your Vote, World Wrestling Entertainment's project in partnership with, no kidding, the League of Women Voters. Sen. Hillary Clinton avoided the ring but raised some eyebrows by declaring her passion for watching wrestling on TV as a youngster. Now there's a way to get kids to the polling place, huh?

Motivating young people to vote has become a huge cottage industry. Norman Lear's foundation is spending $9 million on a youth voter initiative, "Declare Yourself," which moves the Declaration of Independence around the country. MTV's Choose or Lose, the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, Rock the Vote, the NAACP and the U.S. State Department's Election Focus 2004 are all throwing serious money into projects to get young people to the polls.

Most of these groups are on the liberal side of the spectrum although recent polls show that Kerry holds only a small lead over Bush among people. Justin Sane, a guitarist/vocal with the band Anti-Flag told the political digest Hotline that the punk scene is "grounded in radical leftist politics" but there is also a Conservative Punkvoter site for those who want to click into the "right side of punk." And the Republican National Committee is part of MTV's Choose or Lose Convention project.

The issues that most of the punk bands are stressing, however, are decidedly anti-Bush. In addition to abortion rights and privacy, the war in Iraq is on the agenda. Sane believes that the war will push young people to the polls. "There's already legislation introduced in both Houses to bring the draft back… That speaks volumes to young people. Because they do not want to go fight in Iraq."

Since 1972, when 18-year-olds were first allowed to vote, this voting bloc has been a darling of politicians and media alike. In '72, almost half the young people voted but that number sunk to 36 percent in 2000. War was an issue in 1972 and maybe it will motivate them again this year. But for the most part, young people don't vote because they are busy with life and geographically mobile. Until people settle down and realize that they have a direct stake in the outcome of an election they don't tend to vote in high numbers.

One thing that could make a real difference is Internet voting, but that tends to give establishment politicians the willies. Young people are the most Internet-savvy in the population and making it possible to vote from their laptops seems a bit more logical than appearing in headlocks with wrestlers. There are serious privacy and security issues to be worked out, but if politicians really want to get young people into the system they could make perfecting e-voting a priority.

For now, elected officials seem to be more comfortable attending summits, answering pop quizzes about how cool they are and hanging out with professional wrestlers. But if they really want to show they understand young people, they should update their ideas about e-voting.