Youth voters’ interest and participation increasing

Jenna Staul

The much-talked about youth vote made its mark in Ohio’s March 4 presidential primary, jumping 10 percentage points from the 2000 presidential primary, according to a recently released study.

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) reported that 25 percent of eligible Ohio voters under age 30 participated in last month’s primary, making up a 15 percent share of the state’s overall vote. More than 5 million youth voters have participated in state primaries to date.

“Ohio’s turnout rose sharply,” said Emily Kirby, CIRCLE senior research associate. “(In other primaries this year) we’ve seen youth turnout double, triple and even quadruple.”

Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary saw 14 percent of eligible youth voters participating, making up 12 percent of the overall vote. No exit polls regarding youth turnout were conducted in 2000 presidential primary to compare, according to CIRCLE.

“We don’t do projections,” Kirby said. “But we know youth voting had been on the decline from 1972 to 2000. We saw it increase in 2004 and 2006, so it suggests an upward pattern.”

According to CIRCLE, 130,000 Ohio voters under age 30 participated in the Republican primary, while 348,000 participated in the Democratic primary.

Joe Amato, president of the Kent Political Union, said he hopes this election will encourage politicians to cater more toward youth voters.

“Politicians need to reach out to youth voters,” Amato said. “In the past it’s been a mix between who’s failing who. Are politicians failing youth voters, or are youth voters failing politicians? When we don’t vote, politicians don’t pander to us. So it’s a mixed bag on that one.”

Matthew Segal, a senior sociology major at Kenyon College, isn’t surprised by the recent surge in youth voting. Segal is the executive director and founding member of the Student Association for Voter Empowerment, a Washington D.C.-based non-partisan organization that works to increase the youth voter turnout. Feeling dismayed after the 2004 presidential election, Segal founded the organization to promote voting to college-aged citizens.

Segal said the use of technology has bridged the gap between the polls and young voters.

“It used to be a very elitist, academic debate, and peer-to-peer technology made it a social discussion,” Segal said of the election process. “Sites like YouTube allow for a new level of transparency.”

Segal said the Internet makes grassroots campaigning even more accessible to voters but still has its drawbacks.

“It might be easier for someone to learn about a campaign from their computer,” Segal said. “It’s going to get bigger and bigger. The whole world is online now, and I would anticipate campaigns will recognize that.”

Still, this new brand of technology-driven campaigning may have its drawbacks.

“It’s a little impersonal,” Segal said. “You lose the personal connection of the campaign. I think at some point there will need to be a reconciliation between the two.”

Rod Anderson, editor of Campus Progress, an online magazine dedicated to youth issues and activism, said a sense of urgency about issues affecting the nation have fueled the rise in the youth vote.

“Young people are energized by a host of issues,” Anderson said. “I think the war is a major issue. It’s our peers who are dying overseas. Paying for college and getting jobs are huge issues. We are directly affected by the U.S. health care system because when we graduate from college, we aren’t covered by our parents plans anymore.”

Anderson said issues at the heart of this year’s election have shifted from previous years.

“I think those hot-button issues like abortion and gun control aren’t the focus this year,” Anderson said. “Youth voters are more concerned with foundation issues – it’s the direction of the country. They are more concerned with issues than candidates.”

Ryan Claassen, assistant political science professor, said despite optimistic studies and general increases in turnout, youth voters are still an under-represented group in the electorate.

“Not having looked at the study, I’m not surprised the youth vote is up,” Claassen said. “The key question is whether this increase will make them better represented in the electorate.”

Claassen said the overall increase in voters is a result of the hotly contested race for the Democratic nomination and is likely a fleeting phenomenon.

“I’d compare it to a prize fight,” Claassen said. “The ones people pay big money to see are the fights where the combatants are well-matched. I think it’s sort of like a pendulum. What goes up must come down.”

Amato said he is optimistic that the number of youth voters will continue to thrive in future election cycles.

“Hopefully in four years we’ll keep it up,” Amato said. “It depends on the issues and the candidates.”

Contact student politics reporter Jenna Staul at [email protected].