Youth vote

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The youth vote is a political term used to describe 18 to 24 year olds and their voting habits.[1]

Significance of the youth vote[edit]

Youth have a large stake in many policy areas that are greatly affected by who is in office. Two examples of these issues are education and juvenile justice.[2] The youth are the greatest consumers of programs within these issue fields and therefore know what works and what doesn’t. Those who have the biggest stake in such policies would be influential in changing them.

Trends in youth voting[edit]

The general trend in voter turnout for American elections has been decreasing for all age groups, but “young people’s participation has taken the biggest nosedive”.[3] Ever since 18 year olds were given the right to vote in 1972, youth have been under represented at the polls.[1] In 1976, one of the first elections in which 18 year olds were able to vote, 18-24 year olds made up 18 percent of all eligible voters in America, but only 13 percent actually voted - an under-representation of one-third.[1] In the next election in 1978, youth were under-represented by 50 percent. “Seven out of ten young people…did not vote in the 1996 presidential election… 20 percent below the general turnout”.[4] In 1998, out of the 13 percent of eligible youth voters in America, only five percent voted.[1] During the competitive presidential race of 2000, 36 percent of youth turned out to vote and in 2004, the “banner year in the history of youth voting,” 47 percent of the American youth voted.[3] Recently, in the 2008 U.S. Presidential election, the number of youth voters tripled and even quadrupled in some states compared to the 2004 elections.[5] The youth in America have certainly become tech savvy. Young adults are “over-represented among all computer and Internet users” – three fourths of Americans under the age of 18 are able to access a computer and, on average, use it for half an hour a day.[1] As the internet and computers have become more accessible to youth, such methods have been used to seek and find information and share it on social media cites. Websites such as Facebook and YouTube not only allow youth who don't subscribe to newspapers or watch the evening news to stay on top of the polls, but also allows them to share their excitement over the polls and candidates.[6] If the use of technology were to be fully integrated into politics, the youth and adult groups would be equally active in politics.[1]

Barriers to the youth vote[edit]

The lack of youth participation in the voting process is not a random phenomenon. There are many barriers that youth must overcome to participate at the polls; some structural and some more ideological.

Voting period[edit]

The accessibility to voting is fairly limited in the United States compared to other countries. “Most states hold elections on one day, for twelve hours, in the middle of the workweek. Absentee voting, a form of voting by mail, normally must be planned weeks in advance.”[4]

Two party system[edit]

The winner-take-all system in the United States limits the success of third party candidates who may have a difficult time achieving an electoral majority.[4] Young people are increasingly supporting third party candidates, though the American political system has continued to foster a two-party system. In 1992, Ross Perot, a third party candidate for president, won 22 percent of the eighteen-to-twenty-four-year-old vote, his strongest performance among any demographic group”.[4] These third party candidates who gain such support from the youth of the U.S. do not benefit from major party coffers - they must campaign by themselves. Without a large bank account, it is nearly impossible to win an election.

Money in politics[edit]

In nine out of ten elections, the candidate who spends the most money wins.[4] The average cost of a successful campaign for the United States House of Representatives is nearly half a million dollars.[4] With such a high importance placed on campaign dollars, voters take a second place seat.[4] This vast amount of money often comes from either large donations from individuals or large companies. Sometimes these donations are filtered through entities such as PACs, Super PACs, 501(c)(4)s or 501(c)(3)s. In turn for such large donations, candidates are often expected to vote in accordance to their large donors, or risk losing future donations come reelection time. Such election practices are generally disliked by the public, though when news breaks of a campaign finance scandal, Americans are hardly surprised.[4] Often, the media, when reporting on a campaign finance scandal, will not report on the broader implications of the scandal in relation to future policy outcomes.[4] The influence of large donors has become a norm in American politics and may stay that way for a long time. The lawmakers with the power to create and pass campaign finance reform are those who benefit most from the large donations.[4] They must think about their reelection bids and how they will fund their campaigns.

Frequent change of residence[edit]

As youth move away to college and change residences often in the following years, local issues and elections become insignificant.[4] The fewer tax obligations that youth hold only loosely tie them to the government and policy making decisions.[4] College students face the decision whether to stay registered in their hometowns or to register in the community in which they now reside.

Lack of candidate contact[edit]

Young people complain that those in politics do not talk to them, and rightly so.[4] Political candidates and their campaigns know that the youth are not a reliable voting group due to past election data and choose to spend their campaign dollars on those who may actually vote and help elect the candidate. For this reason, candidates may only focus on issues that pertain more specifically to their targeted voters, further discouraging youth voters. The discouraged youth complete the cycle of neglect by not turning out to vote, proving to candidates they the youth are not a reliable voting group.[3] “Elected officials respond to the preferences of voters, not non-voters,” rightfully ignoring the youth of America who do not turn out to vote.[1]

Volunteering efforts[edit]

Though many consider voting a civic activity, youth today seem to have separated the political from the civic.[3] Youth often participate in volunteer opportunities, fundraisers and other activist activities. In this way, youth can make a difference in their communities and are able to see change immediately when seeing the larger picture of a movement, including the political aspect, may be more difficult or intangible.[4]

Efforts to encourage youth vote[edit]


A variety of organizations, including the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Black Panthers, the Young Lords, and Youth Liberation of Ann Arbor each worked to encourage young people to vote together and for common issues.

Today, a number of organizations proclaim their commitment to garnering the youth voice. They include:

Campaign strategies[edit]

The youth are a large and desirable group of voters so many campaigns try to gain their support. Efforts to capture the youth vote include registration drives, outreach and specifically youth-friendly policy platforms. An example of a fairly successful voter registration drive would be the “Reggie the Rig” drive by the Republican National Committee in the 2000 election. With a goal of registering three million new voters, the “Reggie the Rig” bus travelled to college campuses, a perfect place to reach thousands of youth.[3] During the same election, the Democrats held their own campus visits, but instead of focusing on registration, the Kerry campaign spread the word about their youth policy platform called Compact with the Next Generation.[3] The Democrats also placed targeted ads on TV during shows such as Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.[3] This targeted campaign on TV has often been supplemented with outreach through the internet in modern campaigns. New technology, the internet especially, is making it easier for candidates to reach the youth and, in turn, more young people are voting. It has been found that “young people who encounter campaign information on their own accord and spend time interacting with political material may come to see themselves interested in politics” an exciting finding for campaigns who utilize the internet for publicity and outreach.[1]


There has been relatively recent legislation passed that helped youth access the vote. The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), often called the “motor-voter” law, passed in 1993, allows those 18 years and older to register to vote at a driver’s license office or public assistance agency.[4] The law also required states to accept a uniform mail-in voter registration application.[4] Additionally, some states have extended the period in which citizens can vote instead of requiring a vote within 12 hours on a single day.[4]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Iyengar, Shanto; Jackman, Simon (November 2003). "Technology and Politics: Incentives for Youth Participation". International Conference on Civic Education Research: 1–20. 
  2. ^ Sherman, Robert (Spring 2004). "The Promise of Youth is in the Present". National Civic Review: 50–55. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Walker, Tobi (Spring 2006). ""Make Them Pay Attention to Us": Young Voters and the 2004 Election". National Civic Review: 26–33. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Strama, Mark (Spring 1998). "Overcoming Cynicism: Youth Participation and Electoral Politics". National Civic Review 87 (1): 71–77. 
  5. ^ Harris, Chris. "Super Tuesday Youth Voter Turnout Triples, Quadruples in Some States." retrieved 6 Feb 2008.
  6. ^ Von Drehle, David. "Why Young Voters Care Again." Time Magazine. Feb 2008:34-48

External links[edit]

  • Youth Vote Overseas Online registration and ballot request tools for U.S. voters 18-29 living overseas including students, volunteers and young professionals