Out to Rock the Youth Vote

By Edwards, Catherine | Insight on the News, October 23, 2000 | Go to article overview

Out to Rock the Youth Vote


Edwards, Catherine, Insight on the News


American youth are becoming increasingly apathetic about politics, but a candidate who seeks to reach out and appeal to them could find a huge base of support.

Despite the outreach efforts of the dashing George P. Bush -- son of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and nephew of GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush -- and young Karenna Gore Schiff -- Vice President Al Gore's daughter -- the youth of America have shown little interest in the presidential election.

Entrepreneurs ages 13 to 36 now fuel the economy with their tech-savvy, dot-com start-ups. Presumably they know that Gore no more invented the Internet than Bill Clinton is responsible for the booming economy. Government promises to save Social Security may reassure their grandparents, but young adults are saying they have to take care of things themselves.

"Most young people in their twenties and thirties, known in the culture as generation X, grew up in a world of broken promises," says Jane Rinzler Buckingham, the 32-year-old president of Youth Intelligence, a youth marketing company. "They were the first group of kids to experience widespread divorce and to stay home alone while their boomer parents were out finding themselves. AIDS and the worldwide recession suggested to them that life is short and jobs are not guaranteed." Generation Xers, according to Buckingham, "are highly individualistic, don't have heroes and don't trust government. As a result, this election season they are staying home, or at the gym or office, which is more likely."

A recent poll conducted for the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showed that only 55 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds are registered to vote, compared with 87 percent of their parents. Just more than half of those ages 18 to 29 say they plan to vote in November, compared with 80 percent of those ages 50 and older.

Curtis Gans of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate forecasts an even bleaker picture. Gans points out that just after 18-year-olds received the right to vote in 1972 almost half actually went to the polls. In 1996, that number had dwindled to 28 percent. And those ages 18 to 24 voted at a rate of just 12 percent in the 1998 midterm elections, while only 8 percent of their newly franchised younger friends, ages 18 to 21, bothered to enter the voting booth. If trends continue, 2000 will be even worse.

"This election has not excited young people," Buckingham tells Insight. But there is hope. Trend-watchers and pollsters such as Buckingham predict that the next generation, those 18 and younger, might turn the tide. "This millennial generation, or generation Y, those born after 1981, are much more hopeful about the role of the presidency," says Neil Howe, author of Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. Howe has studied and written about generational differences for years and likens today's teens to the World War II generation that survived the Great Depression of the 1930s. "The Great Generation grew up in the prosperous yet scandal-ridden twenties in much the same way these kids did in the nineties," he tells Insight. "They know the shortcomings of the presidency and want to change things for the better."

Howe says, "While Xers tended to drop out of the system when it failed them, millennials are more realistic. They are organized, use the Internet and actually want to do something about it." Jamiel Terry, 20, is a good example. He has put college on hold for now to help overturn the civil-union law in Vermont that grants marriage benefits to same-sex couples. He works for state Rep. Nancy Sheltera who favors repealing the law, and he will stay with her through the November election.

"Electing people like Nancy is so important," Terry tells Insight. Sheltera will introduce a bill to overturn the civil-union law in the 2001 session of the Vermont Legislature. "The whole institution of marriage is at stake if other states adopt similar legislation," he explains. …

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