Why Young People Don't Vote
Published: Monday, September 27, 2004
Updated: Sunday, February 15, 2009 02:02
According to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, only 42 percent of the eligible young people between the ages of 18 to 24 voted in the 2000 presidential election. I was startled by this statistic. Why don't young people vote?
It is appalling for a democratic country like the United States to have less than half of its young people vote in the last presidential election. Since 1972 the rate of youth participation has declined. Fifty-one percent of 18-24 year olds voted in 1972 and in 2000 that number fell by 13 percent.
Of all the Baruch students I surveyed, almost all of them were not aware that only 42 percent of 18-24 year olds in New York State voted in the 2000 election. I was not surprised. According to recent surveys by CIRCLE, young people feel that it doesn't make a difference. They aren't registered, they don't have enough time or there is not enough time. Why is that? Young people are seldom the focus of presidential campaigns and they are not being informed of the issues and the importance of voting.
Another surprising statistic is that youth voter turnout in the 2000 election was highest in Alaska, North Dakota, Maine, Washington D.C. and Wisconsin. Alaska had the highest percentage with a whopping 63 percent. Meanwhile, New York was ranked 15th in the country. Only 42 percent of 18-24 year olds voted here.
Though young people have the lowest voter turnout among age groups, why are they being ignored? According to CIRCLE, they don't vote because campaigns feel that they should not waste resources targeting young voters.
Young people should not be ignored. This year there are 23.9 million 18-24 year olds. They make up about 13 percent of the voting population in the United States. If presidential candidates are looking for new voters needed to win, young people could easily become the new voters.
Right now, only 50.7 percent of young people in the United States and 61 percent of them in New York State are registered to vote, according to CIRCLE. Most of the Baruch students whom I surveyed said that they are going to vote.
And of course there were many people who turned their backs as soon as the topic of voting arose. Why do they hate the idea of voting? Why do you they feel that voting does not affect their lives? That's what I anxiously wanted to know.
Among the few who said, "No I'm not going to vote even though I'm eligible", their reasons included: I'm confused, I don't like the candidates, I'm not informed enough, my interests are not being taken into consideration, Bill Clinton should be allowed to run again. These reasons seemed very vague to support their opposition.
One of the people who said that voting was against his beliefs had this to say, "I don't take an active role in government because it's feudal."
According to the U.S Census, young women are more likely to vote than young men. In the 2000 election, 43 percent of 18-24 year-old women and 40 percent of 18-24-year-old men voted.
Another surprising statistic is that single young people are more likely to vote than married young people! As far as the breakdown of races who voted, the turnout of white citizens was the highest with 44 percent, followed by African-Americans with 42 percent. In third were Asian citizens with 34 percent and lastly, Hispanics with 17 percent.
With the 2004 presidential elections only a month and a half away, there has been much attention focused on getting more young people registered to vote. All of the Baruch students I asked had great suggestions on how to entice young people to register and eventually to go to the ballots on November 2.
Most of them were: more political choices, through musicians, give some type of reward, have less negative ads, inform them, simplify the issues, appeal more to young people, addressed teen issues, get young people more aware of issues affecting the American society.
As you can see, many young voters believe that they do not know enough about the candidates or the election to vote. In a Third Millennium study of nine major media markets, 64 percent of campaign television advertising was found to be directed at people over 50, who represent 37 percent of the population. By comparison, only 14.2 percent of the campaigns' advertising was directed at people between the ages 18 and 34, who make up 31 percent of the population
According to one survey, there are some state laws that seem to increase youth voting. States that allowed Election Day registration, on average, have youth voter rates that are 14 percent higher. Three of the top five states (Minnesota, Wisconsin and Maine) in 2000 allowed Election Day registration. New York State Law only permits voter registration at motor vehicles agencies and by mail.
Also included in the report was that early voting at convenient locations and voter registration at state motor vehicles agencies increased youth turnout. In states that mailed sample ballots and information about polling place hours, youth turnout increased by about 10 percent.
Civic organizations such as Rock The Vote, MTV's Choose or Lose, NAACP Youth & College Voter Empowerment, Paddle for President, Project Vote, V-Day: V is for Vote and numerous others have all devoted their efforts to target young people. If you are a U.S. citizen who is 18 years old or will be by November 2, then you are eligible to vote.
To register, call 1-866-VOTE-NYC (1-866-868-3692), or you can download the form at vote.nyc.ny.us. You can also check out the New Voters' Project at newvotersproject.org. Or call Project Vote Smart's Voter's Research Hotline at 1-888-VOTE-SMART (868-3762).
Are you too young or ineligible to vote? That's doesn't mean that you can't become politically active and volunteer for a candidate that matters to you. If you're interested, check out WireTap's Election 2004: Storm the Polls section at alternet.org/wiretap/election04.