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National NOW Times >> Winter 2004/2005 >> Article

Voters 18 to 29 Came Out in Droves to Cast Their Ballots in 2004

by Kourtney Stamps, Communications Intern

Since the early hours of Nov. 3, we've heard from pundits and pollsters that young voters didn't turn out for the 2004 election. The mainstream media reports that youth voting did not increase from 2000 to 2004. As a member of this stigmatized group, I'm offended that we continue to be labeled apathetic, because we are nothing of the sort.

A total of 20.9 million people in the U.S. under age 30 voted this year, an increase of 4.6 million from 2000. With those statistics, why didn't the media report otherwise?

The simple answer: manipulation of statistics to serve the intents and purpose of the propagandist. A more disconcerting answer: the right-wing gains politically if the media plays into their misleading propaganda. Karl Rove is able to deter the future voting habits of those open-minded (and liberal) young voters, if they think their ballots have little or no influence on the election's outcome.

According to national exit polls, voters age 18 to 29 made up 17 percent of all Nov. 2 voters, the same as 2000. That number has been widely reported because it supports the same story we've heard for years—young people don't care about politics.

In fact, voter turnout was up across all age groups, which is why the proportion of young voters didn't go up even though many more of us showed up at the polls than in years past. If reporters delved a little further into the numbers, they'd see that 28 percent more young people voted this year than in 2000.

Let's take another look. Of all eligible voters in the entire youth population, 51.6 percent turned out to vote this year, up from 42.3 percent in the last presidential election-an increase of 9.3 percentage points. Since these numbers are based on exit polls, they don't include the vast number of young people attending college out-of-state who voted absentee. Even more youth voted in the 10 battleground states. In those states, 64.4 percent of the youth population turned out to vote, up from 51 percent in those same states in 2000.

This increase in voter turnout could be the beginning of a positive trend for future elections. The late-20s age group in 2000 moved up an age bracket and 14 million younger voters replaced them. These young voters already set themselves up to become the "likely voters" pollsters survey in future elections.

In the months leading up to the presidential election, thousands of 18 to 20-somethings volunteered with get-out-the-vote campaigns across the country. They registered thousands of new voters, made phone calls and canvassed neighborhoods. They stood for hours on the roadside with signs to encourage passers-by to get out and vote. Voter apathy is a foreign idea to this voting bloc, even though they've been labeled as such over the years.

The overall voter turnout this year was 59.6 of the eligible population, ages 18 and up—the highest turnout since the 1968 presidential election when the United States was in the throes of the Vietnam War. So if only a little over half of the eligible population turns out to vote, why aren't other age groups labeled apathetic? Other older age groups are somehow deemed worthy of having their issues and concerns addressed by politicians looking for a win.

A Rock the Vote survey reported the following as issues voters ages 18 to 29 based their decisions on:

  1. economy/jobs
  2. terrorism/national security
  3. the war in Iraq
  4. education
  5. civil liberties/civil rights
  6. crime and violence.
Young people are also more likely than their older counterparts to be concerned with lesbian and gay rights and reproductive rights.

While the candidates did address many of these issues, no one did a stellar job of beginning a dialogue with this group that will soon take the reins of this country.

We're the ones trying to get a foothold in a workforce where few companies can afford new hires. We're also the ones most disadvantaged if our education system isn't working or if college tuition is unaffordable. We make up the largest portion of soldiers fighting and dying in Iraq, Afghanistan and other war-torn parts of the world.

We also share in the suffering with other age groups if issues like equal pay, equal treatment under the law, hate crimes legislation and access to safer contraception never get resolved. Maybe that's why we chose Kerry-Edwards over Bush-Cheney 54 to 44 percent.

While we have a soap-box, listen up mainstream media. Stop reporting that we don't turn out to vote. Check the numbers again and do the math. This erroneous message needs to stop with this election. Stop trying to disenfranchise us as a legitimate voting demographic. We won't let it happen.

And listen up, politicians. Stop ignoring us. Think about how decisions you make affect people under 30. We'll vote for you (and now you know we turn out in droves) if you address our issues and show us you'll handle them well. Also, please, stop relying on celebrities to inspire us to go to the polls. As much as you may enjoy a good Boss concert, remember that during Bruce Springstein's popularity I was only knee-high!

To wrap this up, we don't vote because "it's cool." We vote because we want a say in the decisions affect ing our lives. We vote so our voices are heard. We stay active to push our issues to the forefront of political discussion. And we won't go away.

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