Archive for Thursday, September 23, 2004

The new faces of democracy

Bridging the gap

September 23, 2004

Because of controversy surrounding the war in Iraq, a groundswell of post-Sept. 11 patriotism and a heightened push to register more voters, expect a slight increase in 18- to 24-year-old voters in the November general election, said Paul Abramson, a national youth voting expert.

"I think it will probably be higher than 2000, but not by much," said Abramson, a 37-year political science professor from Michigan State University. He is an affiliate of Project Vote Smart and has conducted past studies on generational differences between voters. "It's one thing to get people to register, but another to get them to the polls and to vote."

Historically, voter turnout among America's younger generation has been less than their older counterparts. Although studies before 1971 -- the year the nation adopted the 26th Amendment lowering the voting age to 18 -- are limited, virtually every study Abramson can recall has pinpointed that fact.

The most recent evidence can be found as part of the 2000 U.S. Census. Information in the Census indicates 18- to 24-year-olds cast a ballot 14 percent less than did voters 25 years and older. The average turnout for 25- to 30-year-olds was 50 percent and percentages rose steadily as the age bracket increased, according to the Census.

While the decline in youth voting has been steady and well documented, reasons explaining the young voter apathy are not. Abramson said conventional wisdom once dictated that "young people hadn't integrated themselves into their communities," therefore felt they had "less stake in elections."

"The lowest numbers are always the young voters," he said. "As they get older, they start to get jobs, buy homes, raise families and they become more likely to make the effort."

However, while this theory pervaded for many years, Abramson said it's been challenged and argued by experts recently. "I would say there's really no consensus explaining it," he said, "but I think a lot of people still tend to believe the conventional wisdom is on target.

"I'm not going to say (young voters) are all apathetic because I don't believe that's true. There are many that still take an active role in voting and are active in politics. Just not enough of them."

Abramson said education is the easiest way to make the political process appealing to young voters. Studies show young people are more apt to take interest if they're introduced to politics at an early age. It seems schools are making a bigger effort to promote young voting as are national youth voting organizations and the political parties themselves, he said.

Also, the increased use of advanced and absentee ballots, both of which election offices have been making more readily available in recent years, could have a positive impact on voter turnout in general and young voter participation in particular.

Abramson said efforts to promote young voting is proof America is still listening to what younger voices have to say.

"It seems like there's been an effort to boost young voting," he said. "Whether it will be successful remains to be seen. We'll have to wait until November."

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