January 3, 2008

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) just compiled the youth turnout numbers in Iowa from three sources–CNN.com, the Washington Post and the New York Times–and they are astounding.

The Iowa youth turnout rate has almost tripled since 2000. Participation of youth under 30 rose from 3 percent in 2000 to 11 percent in 2008. The turnout rate for those 30 and above was 15 percent. Among 17- to 29-year-old Democrats, 57 percent supported the winner, Barack Obama, and among 17- to 29-year-old Republicans, 40 percent supported the winner, Mike Huckabee, according to CNN’s entrance poll.

Young Iowans and young activists working in Iowa made history today. National commentators have consistently ignored increases in youth voting since 2000. Like a broken record, the often repeated sentiments about youth apathy are both tiresome and woefully inaccurate. Today’s vote will have profound implications on public perceptions about youth engagement.

While Iowa is just the beginning of a long race in which youth turnout will continue to be interrogated more skeptically than that of other demographics, the monumental change is that youth participation will be on the national agenda. The youth vote will no longer be dismissed and ignored–and that’s a historic victory for all youth organizers.

“Tonight showed that candidates who court young voters will win elections,” said Heather Smith, executive director of Rock the Vote in a press release. “This is the first year the leading Democratic candidates all have a Youth Director and young voter outreach programs,” noted Jane Fleming Kleeb, Executive Director of the Young Voter PAC. “The turnout numbers of young people prove if you target young people they vote.”

Wiretap congratulates thousands of youth organizers who worked patiently for years to achieve this milestone. From youth organizers at Rock the Vote, Young Voter PAC, the League of Young Voters and PIRG’s to young bloggers of Future Majority to youth researchers and pollsters like CIRCLE, thousands of youth organizers pulled their limited resources together and it paid off.

What a great way to start a new year!

(And speaking of limited resources, please consider donating to these groups today to sustain their work through the November.)

Kristina Rizga is an editor and publisher of WiretapMag.org.