Every four years, a familiar issue gets thrown into the faces of the youth of America. After fours years of trying to ignore all of the depressing things that have been going on in the world and this country, young Americans are forced to think of politics, at least for a few weeks.
Suddenly, politicians and political activists start talking about the youth, and more importantly, the youth vote.
This concept of the youth vote has been thrown around a lot lately, with campaigns catering to Americans under 25, like Rock the Vote, an effort that used popular musical artists to get the youth of America involved.
So, with everyone telling us how important we are to the political process, the youth of America might wonder just how significant their votes will be in the upcoming election.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, of the approximately 200 million Americans that are of legal age to vote, those between the ages of 18 and 24 make up about 25-27 million. That means the youth vote makes up an eighth of all the votes in the country. This is no small figure. That eighth could be more than enough to sway an election from one candidate to another. With a concerted effort, the youth of America could actually make a difference in national politics.
Unfortunately, the Census Bureau also has statistics that say in the last three presidential elections, less than half of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 reported that they registered to vote.
Of that 40-50 percent that registered, only about 30-40 percent actually voted. These numbers are embarrassingly dismal.
If the youth can have such a significant influence on national politics, why don’t we? This really is the question of the century, or at least the last couple of decades.
However, there is a ray of hope among all of these negative statistics. In the last three Presidential elections, the voter turnout among Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 has increased, with the exception that the 18-20 group dropped three percent between 1996 and 2000.
They did rally for the next election, rising 12 percent between 2000 and 2004, while the 21-24 age bracket increased by 7 percent from 2000 to 2004, a marked improvement over the 2 percent rise from 1996 to 2000. Unfortunately, even with the seemingly enormous increase in turnout in 2004, 60 percent of young voters did not cast a ballot.
If turnout sees a comparable rise this year, which is possible in this year’s highly contested election, that would still mean that the youth vote will be half of what it could be.
Should this increasing trend continue, the youth vote could actually become the dynamic force in national politics that so many activists claim it could be.
The irony here is that a significant rise in the turnout of young American voters will not likely be seen for at least a decade or two.
So, by the time the youth vote does have a significant influence in politics, our generation will no longer be a part of it.