Throw out old conventional wisdom. That is that the kids are too busy listening to music and dating to think about who to vote for and to actually turn out and vote. Millions came out during the primaries and voted for Obama, for example. Will the same hold for a presidential election in which Barak Obama is the putative favorite to win by a landslide?
No one knows. But know this: whenever a candidate looks like a sure winner the electorate gets complacent–and it doesn’t matter which age group–and often doesn’t turn out to vote. “Oh, what does it matter?” they could say. He’s going to win anyway, with or without my ballot and I have other pressing business that night.”
“That’s so bogus in this case,” say the Democrats. The kids are tuned into our young 46-year-old outsider candidate (Obama) and they’ll be there to support him in large numbers.” Maybe so, maybe no.
Remember the 1948 elections? Most people are too young to remember this election in which Republican Thomas Dewey was supposed to have had it all wrapped up and would defeat incumbent President Harry S. Truman by a landslide. Well, folks, it didn’t happen and Truman won that election. Am I suggesting that underdog John McCain will also pull one out at the last minute? I don’t know, but it’s certainly possible.
Do the Young Care?
Since the late 1960s, the same chorus has been heard from election to election: The young don’t care. They’re disengaged. They’re too wrapped up in their music, their favorite sports and their parties to take an interest in politics. Predicting that the young will vote in large numbers is like saying the Cubs will finally win the World Series.
As it happens, the Cubs are doing well this season, and the evidence is overwhelming that this year the young really will vote in large numbers — and they just might tip the election.
The trend started four years ago, According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or Circle. The electoral participation among 18- to 24-year-olds increased from 36 percent in 2000 to 47 percent in 2004. For the larger 18-to-29 group, participation rose from 40 to 49 percent.
The 2006 midterm elections brought a greater increase in off-year voting among the under-30s than in any other age group.
Then came this year’s primaries: According to Circle, the turnout rate for under-30s nearly doubled between 2000 and 2008, from 9 to 17 percent.