- The Washington Times - Monday, May 31, 2004

If polls and the growth of college political groups are any indication, historically low voter turnout among young people may be on the verge of a turnaround.

“These are important times, and there are important issues on the table, and I think young people are beginning to clue into this,” said Ivan Frishberg, a spokesman for the New Voters Project, a nonpartisan youth-voter mobilization group.

“This Generation Y just seems more engaged, more optimistic and, to a very significant extent, involved on a much greater level.”

The much-reported trend of low turnout among young voters has been an issue since 1972, when 18-year-olds were first allowed to vote by the 26th Amendment. The percentage of those ages 18 to 24 who were voting dropped from almost half to less than a third between then and the 2000 election, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

By contrast, according to a Harvard Institute of Politics poll released in April, 62 percent of college students, who make up a third of the 18 to 24 demographic, said they will definitely vote in November.

Less than half the members of this group fit traditional liberal or conservative labels, meaning they could vote either way in the election.

While more college students are registered to vote than others ages 18 to 24, polls also indicate an increase in political interest among all those between the ages of 18 and 29 since the 2000 election.

Also, both College Republicans and College Democrats have seen an increase in membership and participation.

“Our membership has tripled in the last couple years,” said Eric Hoplin, national chairman of College Republicans.

Alison Aikele, the organization’s communications director, said the close 2000 election got young voters’ attention. “A lot of people started to realize their vote really does matter,” she said.

College Democrats spokesman Aaron Thompson said increased participation is issues-driven.

“Students pay taxes, students go to war and, ultimately, students start looking for jobs when they graduate to work in their degree,” he said.

In some Democratic primaries, Mr. Thompson said, voter turnout among young people was twice what it was four years ago.

With the expectation of higher turnout, both groups are already working hard to influence young voters, as well as key races and states where close elections are expected.

“We’ve been working twice as hard to get students engaged in the presidential electoral process,” Mr. Thompson said. Right now, the organization is devoting most of its efforts to its convention in July. Both groups also plan to attend their respective parties’ conventions.

Mr. Hoplin said College Republicans are focusing this summer on fund raising and training about 60 “field representatives” in preparation for campaign activities beginning in August. Individual members, he said, are volunteering in their hometowns.

“What all that says is, there’s definitely an increased attention in young people and an increased likelihood, almost certainty, that there’s going to be more younger voters in November,” Mr. Frishberg said. “There are 24 million 18- to 24-year-olds in this country who are eligible to vote, so obviously … young voters could play an enormous role in the election.”

But, he said, that is all dependent on whether candidates can convince young people that they are worth voting for.

“They have to pay attention and reach out to young people,” Mr. Frishberg said. “They’re the ones who have to prove themselves.”

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