Candidates and political parties are constantly courting every vote possible. We see candidates and their spokesmen on TV proclaiming their popularity within various segments of the electorate. Pundits and analysts revel in being able to determine the level of support for one candidate or another by various groups. Examples include the African-American vote, the Hispanic vote, the senior vote, and the youth vote.
Often overlooked in the current political analysis is what I see as the slow but steady uptick in the level of involvement from young voters across the country – regardless of political party. The involvement and engagement of young people is a bright spot in our electoral process in times of constant attempts to draw sharp contrasts between opponents, and increasing doses of partisanship.
I remember in high school being taught a rule-of-thumb in which the age of a voter often correlates to the turnout of that age group on Election Day. I also remember hating this statistic because I felt my generation could do better.
Let’s look at previous midterm elections and voters that were 18-24 years old. In 1998 turnout among them was 18.5%. In 2002 it dropped to about 17.2%. And in 2006 it rose to 19.9% — up almost 3% points. Participation is higher, as it is in most segments, in presidential election years. In 2000, 36.1% turned out. 2004 came in at 41.9% and most recently, in 2008, a spike to 44.3%. 2008 was the highest turnout among 18-24 year old voters since 1972 – the Nixon landslide – with turnout at 48.3%.
Cue Election 2010, a cycle where it seems anything can happen, and a poll released in September by Rock the Vote indicating that 77% of young voters were planning to vote this November. I hope this holds true – and believe there is an untold national narrative of increased youth involvement and activism on both sides of the aisle.
Evident in the 2008 Presidential election and today, the evolution of social media and technology has allowed candidates and political parties to speak to voters at a rapid pace, with what often now appears as special attention being paid to younger voters – and their communication tools. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), even launched a commercial about his use of Twitter.
Rock the Vote’s survey also found that 89% believe that their generation (myself included) can successfully reform the government. This is consistent with the trends of the millennial generation and creates what should be viewed as a level of excitement and engagement by young voters not seen enough.
I serve on the Board of Trustees and am an alumnus of an organization called the Junior Statesmen Foundation (JSF). JSF is a non-profit, non-partisan civic education organization with the sole mission of increasing participation by and engaging high-school students in the political process. Each time I encounter students from organizations such as this it gives me hope that slowly but surely, that awful rule-of-thumb will soon be proven wrong. We need more organizations such as this that foster the engagement, participation, and education of young people aspiring to lead the country – whether in business or government.
The combination of organizations like JSF, the use of social media technology in the political process, with an unprecedented level of enthusiasm by young voters to participate in the political process is a positive social wave to keep our eye on. Perhaps 2010 will buck the trend of such stark turnout disparities between midterms and presidential cycles for these voters.