In the immediate wake of the 2004 presidential election, political pundits let out a unanimous, head-shaking sigh. Despite unprecedented amounts money, mobilization, and hype over the so-called “youth vote,” it was initially reported that young people had once again stayed at home. “The youth vote,” National Review’s Jonah Goldberg smugly declared, “is bunk.”
Yet after the dust settled, a closer analysis revealed an 11% spike in young voter turnout since the 2000 election – the largest percentage increase of any age demographic and the largest jump in youth voting since the age limit was lowered from 21 to 18 in 1972.
Some saw 2004 as a fluke, but in the gubernatorial races of 2005, young people continued to show up to the polls. Youth turnout surged in Virginia (up 15%) and New Jersey (up 19%), while every other age demographic dropped.
Now that the 2006 results are in, it can be said with certainty that the youth voting wave is a genuine trend. This year, a total of 10 million young voters showed up-2 million more than in 2002 and the most in 20 years of midterm elections. The percentage increase of young voters (4%) was twice that of the general electorate.
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For a period of time, especially in the aftermath of 9/11, youth were largely considered to be a swing demographic. Indeed, many surveys showed young people tilting right, especially on the war in Iraq, which they once supported more than any other age group.
Those days appear to be over.
Young people were the only age demographic to go for Kerry in ’04 and in this election, they voted more Democratically than any other age group. Young voters chose Dems over Republicans by a 22% margin-far greater than the 8% margin of 30-59 year olds and 4% margin of voters over 60.
According to Democratic pollster Ivan Frishberg, “Generation Y is a gift to the Democratic party.”
The theory goes that once a young voter casts a vote for the same party three times, he’ll stick to that party for life. If trends continue in 2008, Generation Y-which will account for more than 25% of the voting population within the decade-could be a massive Democratic bloc.
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Looking at these figures, it’s tempting to say that America’s long disengaged youth have finally turned the corner-that political participation is no longer anathema to young people.
The trends are certainly encouraging, but let’s put things in perspective: in the end, only 24% of young people voted.