Young voters haven't exactly flocked to the polls since 18- to 20-year-olds became eligible to vote in 1972. For presidential elections, young voters bottomed out at 32 percent turnout in 1996, compared with about 60 percent of voters 25 and older.Here's why, in this humble pundit's speculation.
But ... In the 2004 presidential election, about 47 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds cast a ballot, an increase of 11 percent from 2000, according U.S. Census Bureau data.
1. The failure of civic education.
We have failed to make voting relevant in our history classes, in our English classes, in our math classes, in our science classes. We may talk about democracy, but we don't practice it. I'm not saying teachers should cede control of their classrooms to an adolescent mob--but when was the last time a high school student held a real ballot and voter's guide in their hand, and learned how it works on a practical level?
2. Leadership that can't connect with youth.
In 2004, nearly half of young folks voted, for an obvious reason: the Iraq conflict. Candidates who focus on Social Security, "values," the economy, are aiming at a narrow voting target. It's common knowledge that young people don't think about--and certainly don't save enough--for the future. Candidates have to present-ize every issue, if they want youth to care. (Note that it's not about charisma--Bill Clinton's MTV persona didn't bring out the vote in 1996.)
3. Reluctant embrace of technology.
Voting machines are in, vote by mail is in, but we're not yet voting on the Internet. When that day arrives, watch the youth vote spike. 2004 also marked the rise of the political blogger and the New Media. Gen Y isn't reading the newspaper in print. Why should they pay for what they can read for free online?
4. College = rootlessness.
When I attended college in a faraway state, I never voted absentee. I couldn't get excited about an election over fifteen hundred miles away, and I simultaneously didn't connect to the issues right around me. My college bubble world had me completely insulated. Sixty percent is perhaps the best we can hope for.