By Greg Fischer, MC 4500
Just a few years ago, in fact only since the 1972 election year, have 18 to 20-year-olds been allowed to vote in America. And yet, they don’t.
Today, the Youth Vote is generally referred to voters, ages 18-24. Statistics show that an initial spike (meaning when young voters actually exercised their right to vote) occurred during the Vietnam War, in 1972, when it is believed that the voting law was changed over the military draft age being 18. If only the same logic stood for the legal drinking-age?
But since 1972, 18-24-year-olds have gradually shown less interest overall in the political process. This year however, the youth voter turnout will be much greater compared to the overall, historic timeline.
The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or CIRCLE, released a study in July 2005, showing that in the 2004 Presidential Election citizens ages 18-24 came out to vote in numbers greater than even the 1976 Presidential Election.
In fact, 3 million more young people voted in the 2004 Presidential Election, compared to 2000. The report however maintains that it certainly has yet to be seen if this is, in fact, a new trend, or rather merely a temporary spike.
I. Celebrity Factor
In a close race, people say that John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon in the 1960 Presidential Election because Nixon refused makeup for the television screen at the 1960 Presidential Debate. Of course, 18-year-olds could not yet vote in 1960, but young people pay attention to style today. This can be seen at any “Indy Dance Party Night” at a club near a University, especially if you are refusing to turn on your TV these days.
Moreover, according to the CIRCLE study, another spike in young voter turnout occurred in 1992, when Bill Clinton was elected. President Clinton is often considered attractive.
Now, be certain, in the current Presidential race Barack Obama is being called the “celebrity candidate.” On the other hand his opponent’s running-mate, Sarah Palin, is not only the first ever female vice presidential candidate, but also a former beauty pageant winner. The heat is on.
But wait a second, how did the number of youth voters spike so greatly in 2004? Neither President George W. Bush nor John Kerry holds a torch in a looks competition with these other candidates. Thus another question must be posed.
II. Why do we vote?
Historically, we vote for many different and often strange reasons.
Justin Ulrich, a fourth year PhD student in political science calls to mind the Chicago Political Machine. During the Machine’s hay-day in the 1930’s, the phrase was coined, “Beer and a Ballot,” pertaining to a common practice when on Election Day it was perfectly legal for party members to hand out a beer or sometimes rum punch to voters granted they vote a certain way.
But Ulrich, a young voter, is yet nowhere near apathetic about American government. An Obama campaign poster rests in his bedroom window, facing Highland Rd. A native of Pennsylvania, Ulrich exercises his right to vote by sending in an absentee ballot.
Within the realm of Political Science, Ulrich is an American government specialist. He studies economic voting, or how changes in the economy year to year effect which party that the actual voter will turn out and vote for, or against in some cases. He has presented a couple papers, in Chicago and in Philadelphia.
“I think the idea we all like to have is, if everyone goes out and does what they are supposed to do, and vote, we’re going to have the best government that the people actually think that we should have,” said Ulrich.
He says that in swing states such as his home state, Pennsylvania, likewise in Ohio, that in 2004 a big push came to get the young voter involved. But even with the spike that occurred, that it is still not nearly what it should be.
Dr. Herman O. Kelly, Manship School professor of Racism and Sexism studies in the Media and pastor of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, located at 1358 South Blvd., says people have a responsibility to their community to vote.
Dr. Kelly believes that in this Presidential Election, more people are going to vote to implement change. “The younger generation is a visual generation,” said Dr. Kelly. “The candidates that use internet sites to campaign are going to attract more votes from the youth.”
“People vote once they get educated that their vote counts,” said Dr. Kelly.
“I look at the people that died, especially African American people who died or struggled to win the right to vote so it’s almost like a burden that I have to carry,” said Dr. Kelly. “When I don’t vote, I feel guilty.” That’s a pretty good reason to vote.
“I think the Republicans know that they are in trouble,” said Dr. Kelly. “They are doing whatever they have to do to keep their interests at hand.”
“Historically, we know that older, wealthier, and better educated people vote at higher rates because they are more likely to see connections between politics and their lives and the lives of their communities,” said Dr. Robert Kirby Goidel of the Manship School, as well as a professor in the political science arena. This begs another question.
III. Does the youth vote matter?
“Potentially, the youth vote could decide the next President,” said Dr. Goidel.
Dr. Goidell, also director of public policy research, says that government is highly responsive to groups of voters.
“You can see clearly policy shifts, for example, in favor of older voters, who always vote at high rates, and when African American voters were effectively enfranchised. If young voters vote in large numbers, it will make difference in policy.”
Two young people in particular, understand this all too well.
“The number of voters in the 18-24 age group rival the number of registered voters in the 65 and older group, which is traditionally thought of as being a very high participation group,” said Louisiana Secretary of State, Jay Dardenne.
Dardenne recently spoke in front of an LSU audience in the Holliday Forum, just before introducing a screening of the film 18 in ’08, released this year and centered on the youth vote.
The creator of 18 in ’08 is one guy who realizes the importance of voting by what Secretary of State, Dardenne, referred to as “the millennial generation.” He is 19-year-old, David D. Burstein, a student at Haverford college in Pennsylvania.
Burstein is touring over 20 universities around the country before the coming election cycle, showing his film, getting young people to register to vote, and stressing the power of the youth vote as a whole.
“When I was younger, my parents would read me The New York Times and talk to me about current events. My path down the road of politics found me debating the pros and cons of the 2000 Bush/Gore matchup over the sixth-grade lunch table and slowly becoming a C-SPAN junkie,” writes Burstein in one article.
The film lasts just over, or just under, a half-hour long. Burstein says all he did was “cold call” to get interviews. In fact, Burstein claims to have interviewed “over 60 Congressmen, Senators, presidential candidates, policy makers, activists…young and old.” These interviews include faces such as Richard Dreyfuss, John Kerry, and James Carville.
18 in ’08 and Burstein have registered 23,000 people to vote. Coming in October, Burstein will begin a similar program with the same goals called “Trick or Vote.”
Another young person who understands the importance of the youth vote is 21-year old candidate for Baton Rouge Metro Council District 12, Brett Jackson. The next youngest candidate for Baton Rouge Metro Council is 28.
Jackson is a finance student at LSU and also a campus leader in the LSU student government as a senator. After he graduates next year, he will begin working on an MPA—a master’s degree in government and non-profit administration.
Jackson is from LaPlace, LA and went to Jesuit High School in New Orleans. He is an openly gay democrat. He has a real chance, come the October 4th election. He faces Jim Benham, former councilman, R.J. “Smokie” Bourgeois, owner of “Georges” restaurant, and Will Gladney, a physician, all three conservative republicans.
“[18-24] is statistically a very large voter block, almost as much as the ‘generation x’ voter block, so that if it was mobilized it would be a powerful force,” said Jackson.
“I think a lot of young people see the change as in their best interest. A lot of the policies now are geared toward the older generation, the richer people, and it’s very hard for a young person to have accumulated so much wealth at a young age.”
So, despite MTV’s “Rock the Vote” and similar organizations often being considered a huge failure, no one feels like it is a bad campaign, in and of itself. In fact, these groups, all easily accessible via the WEB, were praised by everyone interviewed for this article.
“The more people who register, the better,” said Jackson.