The Incredible Youth Vote?
by Rachel Zaentz
More than 6.5 million Americans under the age of 30 voted in the 2008 presidential primaries. Time Magazine and other prominent publications dubbed 2008 "The Year of the Youth Vote." Political commentators and analysts have argued that the surge in the youth vote and its virtually unwavering support for Barack Obama was a key factor behind the Senator's ascent to prominence and his ultimate victory in securing his spot as the Democratic nominee for president. However, it remains unclear as to whether or not the youth voting bloc will be as powerful during the general election.
Despite the fact that the youth voter turnout rate jumped from 9% in the 2000 presidential primaries to 17% during the nominating contests this year, young people still do not vote nearly as often as older Americans. While many political campaigns, especially Democratic ones, have always hoped to see a an increase in young voters on election day, polling data from past general elections suggests that younger Americans have been an unreliable voting bloc. During the 2004 presidential race, for instance, ballots cast by young voters only accounted for 1.53% of John Kerry's total votes.
In other words, it remains unclear as to whether adding a presidential candidate as a friend on Facebook will translate into a vote during the general election.
On July 22nd 2008, The Century Foundation (TCF) hosted a panel discussion for NYC interns entitled, “The Incredible Youth Vote: Will the Youth Vote Have the Strength to Decide the 2008 Presidential Election?” TCF gathered a panel of experts to lead an interactive discussion with nearly 100 young people from the NYC area on the potential political power of the youth vote, and the various legal and social factors that election year after election year keep this demographic of voters from actively engaging in the political process.
Forum speakers included, Tova Wang, Vice President of Research for Common Causeand Democracy Fellow at The Century Foundation; Justin Rockefeller, Co-founder and National Program Director of GenerationEngage, Maya Enista, Chief Executive Officer of Mobilize.org, Mark Hugo Lopez, Associate Director of the Pew Hispanic Center; and Ben Adler, Staff Writer for Politico.
The panel addressed a host of issues that may make it difficult for segments of the youth vote to easily participate in the electoral process. The ability of the political campaigns and voter mobilization groups to target both students and non-students alike in their GOTV efforts along with state election laws that have historically disenfranchised young voters account for just a few of the factors they discussed, which could affect the impact young voters have on the local and national elections in November. To view highlights from the event click on the video below.