This article was originally published by WireTap.
June 23, 2008
Time Magazine recently proclaimed 2008 “The Year of the Youth Vote.” MTV has been similarly celebrating the unprecedented youth turnout on Super Tuesday with votes (PDF) tripling in five states and nearly quadrupling in Tennessee their 2000 totals. Inspired by what youth voters see as a more grassroots campaign of Sen. Barack Obama and mobilized through dozens of voter engagement groups, voter turnout among youth increased in every state except New York.
Formerly skeptical political strategists, media outlets, bloggers, pundits and presidential candidates are now paying close attention to this voting bloc. The recognition of the clout of some 50 million 18- to 30-year-old eligible voters in America marks a historic shift in the national discourse. In the past decade, polls showed that public opinion cast young people as “apathetic” overlooking increasing community and electoral activism.
Trouble is, the new mainstream narrative on young voters has a huge gap, and everyone from the Democratic Party to social justice advocates and economically vulnerable communities stand to lose from this ommission. The new youth vote story narrowly fixates on voting among college students rendering close to half of the Americans between the ages of 18-25 politically invisible. While one in every four college-educated youths came out to vote in the Super Tuesday states, only one in fourteen out-of-college youths voted. This disparity in voter turnout has persisted since 1976, seeing only a minor improvement (PDF) in 2000 and 2004.
There are close to 13 million (PDF) 18- to 25-year-olds, who have never been enrolled in college in America. So far only about three million (PDF) voted in the primaries. These non-college youths come disproportionately from lower-income backgrounds and African American and Latino communities. It is these very communities that stand to gain the most from more political power and resources, especially during the current recession.
With Sen. Obama as the presumptive Democratic nominee, these new voters also represent a huge, untapped potential voter base, of which close to half live in clustered, urban areas in some of the most likely swing states, including Ohio, New Mexico, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Colorado. This demographic is equally crucial for progressives of all stripes attempting to build a new majority for pushing universal health care, education reform, and urgent climate change policies on the national agenda. What will it take to mobilize over 10 million non-college youth to come out in November?