The Gap

by Adam Fogel // Published February 27, 2008
I always hear pundits and prognosticators talking about the unreliability of the youth vote. Conventional wisdom is that young people are apathetic, they aren't paying attention and they're disengaged from the political process. They call it a "Participation Gap." Youth turnout this primary season is at an all-time high, but the cynics respond by saying it's the "cult of personality" driving them to the polls (i.e. Barack Obama), not a genuine interest in the political process.

This week, Rock the Vote released a survey of 18 to 29-year-olds that shows that young people are engaged, not just because they are excited about a particular candidate, but because they care about their future. Highlights include:

-80% are "closely" following the election -82% are "likely" to vote in November 2008 -88% believe "young people have the power to change things in this country" -60% have "spoken with friends about the election" -Only 8% are following the election because they "care a lot about a particular candidate" -40% are following the election because they "feel that this election is going to be very important"

The Registration Gap While young people are paying attention to this election and voting in record numbers, there is still a worry that come November, candidates who rely on the youth vote will be disappointed. It's not because young people don't want to vote, it's because there are too many bureaucratic hurdles preventing youth participation. In 2004, 72% of the general population was registered to vote and 88.5% actually voted. In contrast, only 58% of 18 to 24-year-olds were registered, but surprisingly, over 81% showed up on Election Day. This shows that there is not really a participation gap, but there is definitely a registration gap.

To close this gap, FairVote supports a range of proposals, which would all move toward our ultimate goal of universal voter registration. Reforms like Election Day Registration (sometimes called "same-day registration"), setting a uniform voter registration age of 16-years-old and teaching the mechanics of voting in high schools are all ways to get more young people to the polls. Voting is habit-forming--if we can get young people to vote in the first election for which they are eligible, they are likely to be a voter for life. That's why we also support allowing 17-year-olds who will be 18 on or before the general election to vote in the preceding primary election.

The "millennial generation" may make the difference this November, but it's up to the government (both state and federal) to put policies in place that encourage their participation and not put up more barriers to prevent it.