With the election two weeks ago, many students are still wondering why the youth voter turnout seemed so low, despite strong efforts to bring America?s youth out to the polls.Though the efforts to encourage young people to vote were not aimed solely at college students, the focus for many campaigns took place on college campuses.This year, enthusiasm for the presidential election seemed unsurpassed on campuses across America. Campaigns like MTV?s Rock the Vote and MoveOn.org helped rally student and youth support for the election.
Yet on Nov. 3, as the results for the exit polls came in, young adults made up roughly 17 percent of the total vote nationwide the same percentage of young voters who came out to the polls in the 2000 election.
Why, students asked, after such diligent efforts, was there no increase in the youth vote nationwide? The truth is that there was an increase, though this is widely unknown.
According to an article on Boston.com, “nearly 21 million people between the ages of 18 and 29 voted this year, 4.6 million more than four years ago.”
This is considered a victory, especially for MTV?s Rock the Vote, whose goal was to bring 20 million youth voters out to the polls. A Rock the Vote representative said the Nov. 2 turnout was “quite a tremendous achievement.”
Overall, 51.6 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 voted in this year?s election, compared to 42.3 percent in 2000. The youth vote also leaned democratically, favoring John Kerry by 10 percentage points, according to Boston.com.
In such a close presidential election, some consider a lead like that a landslide. Young people were the only age group that favored Kerry over Bush, according to Yahoo! News.
Pennsylvania had a slightly better turnout, with youth voters accounting for 21 percent of the state?s total vote. This larger turnout was partially what helped Kerry win Pennsylvania, along with several other battleground states. In Pennsylvania, Kerry won the youth vote by 60 percent, according to CNN.
Some students on campus are wishing the young voters had come out in more force nationally. “I definitely think that if more people our age that had registered to vote in this election came out to vote, Kerry would have had a better chance,” said Natalie Alsis, a junior communication studies major.
The fact that the 18-29 generation leans democratically may also have contributed to what many students felt was a gloomy atmosphere the day after the election here in West Chester and on campuses across the United States.
“I got the vibe that most people were in shock about Kerry losing. I definitely think more people were upset than happy,” said Lesley Caithness, a junior special education major.
Campuses across America appeared to have a similar attitude, according to CNN.com. “Overall, there seemed to be a sense of depression or debilitation among local Democrats after their loss,” the Web site reported. Republicans were described as being more relieved.
The growth in numbers of young voters is a step in the right direction, despite the fact that generation made up only 17 percent of the overall voter population. The reason that the overall national percentage was the same this year as it was four years ago, despite a larger youth vote in 2004, is because so many more people nationwide voted this year in every age group.
Still, some feel there is the sense that as a generation, the youth could have done better. “I think it?s a shame that young people don?t realize the importance of voting,” said Alsis.
She also speculated on the future of our generation. “We are the ones who are going to have to be repaying the deficit from this war and I think if more people realized how much of their hard earned money will be going to the government to cover the war, they would be more concerned about who is in office.”
No one denies that this was one of the biggest campaign efforts in history for a presidential election on both sides. The increase in young voters countered a nearly unbroken decline in youth voter participation since 1972, when it became legal for 18-year-olds to vote, according to one Web site.
Despite reports that young voters were vacant from the polls this year, the numbers are on the rise. Now scholars say the focus must be on keeping that generation involved for 2008, and in elections to follow.