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Archive for Tuesday, November 2, 2004

Parties courting 20 million young voters

Renewed interest in politics signals more participation by 18- to 24-year-olds

November 2, 2004

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Tyler Victorio, a 19-year-old college sophomore from Oxnard, Calif., is getting ready for his first presidential election.

He registered to vote on the Black Entertainment Television Web site. He follows the election by watching "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" on Comedy Central and reading about the candidates on Internet sites and blogs.

"I know I'm going to vote, but it's so hard to choose," said Victorio, an English major at California State University. "I don't agree with Bush or with Kerry."

He's a swing voter in an election that could be decided by a few thousand votes, and he's among the 20 million 18- to 24-year-olds in the United States who are being courted heavily by both parties.

If young voters show up at the polls today, their votes could determine whether George W. Bush stays in office for four more years or John Kerry becomes the country's 44th president.

The problem is, growing apathy and disengagement by young people have led to a steady decline in their election participation since 1972, when the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18.

Since then, participation by people under 25 has dropped 13 percent, while the participation rate overall has fallen just 4 percent, according to a report by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

In 1972, just over half of all eligible 18- to 24-year-olds voted. In 2000, just over a third -- 37 percent -- cast ballots, the report said.

Young people say they stay away from the polls because they don't believe their votes will count. They don't understand the issues or don't see how those issues apply to their lives. They're too busy, or they don't know how to register or where to cast a ballot, according to studies conducted by youth voting experts.

Lacey Cassidy, a 19-year-old college sophomore from Fillmore, Calif., thought about registering but decided not to bother. She doesn't plan to vote in the election, though she said she may give in to peer pressure.

"I don't really want to," said Cassidy. "I know they say my vote matters, but when you think about it, it doesn't."

Youth voting advocates hope Cassidy is in the minority. High voter registration rates and a renewed interest in politics are signals that this year, voter participation by young people might actually increase.

A number of election issues, including the rising cost of college, war in Iraq, talk of a military draft and the environment, are resonating with college students.

"I feel more passionate now (than four years ago). I think it's anti-Bush sentiment," said California Lutheran University student Madeline Stacy, 22. She is particularly passionate about women's reproductive rights; she plans to vote for Kerry.

A Pew Research Center Poll released in September found that 58 percent of young Americans said they were registered to vote, the highest percentage since 1992. In that poll, 53 percent of young people said they had given a lot of thought to the election, up from 35 percent in 2000.

"There does seem to be something changing," said Herb Gooch, a political science professor at California State University. "You can feel it under your feet. Students do seem more politically engaged."

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