Why the 18-35 year old voting demographic matters more than ever
By Niele Anderson
Sentinel Religion Editor
By Evan Barnes
Sentinel Staff Writer
Each generation has events that force them to be actively aware of how their world is changing. For the baby boomers, it was the turbulent 1960’s. For their children, it was cocaine/crack, gang wars and Reaganomics in the 1980s.
This generation has been awakened by the September 11 attacks and pushed into action by smaller scale events such as the Jena Six rally and the Sean Bell case. It’s only fitting that their voice has found its way into politics where all of the presidential candidates have appealed to their issues.
This series will take a look at several factors that have led to its growth as well as attempt to explain the growing voice emerging from the 18-35 year old demographic.
ROCKIN’ THE VOTE
In 2004, the voice of the youth voter movement rang out loud and clear. Organizations like Rock the Vote, Declare Yourself, Vote or Die and MTV Choose or Lose became national stakeholders in the political process by helping make the presidential election attractive and interesting. The Internet accelerated the trend, giving young people a cheap and efficient tool to organize rallies, recruit volunteers, and exchange information about candidates. Young people from across college campuses and the nation challenged politicians and made them pay attention to their views and concerns.
Rock the Vote was at the forefront of the movement that registered over 1.4 million young people and helped organize thousands of GOTV (Get Out the Vote) efforts across the country. The organization was able to move over 20 million young people to vote. That year, the light of awareness and civic participation turned bright for individuals that were 18 to 35 years old.
Jehmu Greene, an African-American woman and Democratic Strategist who was the 2004 president of Rock the Vote, led the movement that also brought the now popular MySpace to national appeal.
Many young people became politically involved during that time because they became a part of the process. They understood their power, learned how the process worked and realized they are not the future but they are the now. It is a fact that young voter participation increased from 36 percent in 2000 (after a steady decline in youth voting since the close of the Vietnam War), to 47 percent in 2004, representing a huge jump.
Now jump to 2008 the youth vote is one of the most talked about votes in the media. Senator Barack Obama understood the power and hired Hans Reimer, a Rock the Vote Veteran and Political Director in 2004. This seems to be a good decision for the Senator, with the youth vote being a key factor to his overwhelming acceptance and his win as the presumptive Democratic nominee for president.
Local elected officials see the importance of the youth vote as well, recently Assemblyman Curren Price of Inglewood proposed Assembly Bill 1819, which would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote, qualifying them automatically when they reach 18.
Students learn about U.S. government, history and economics in high school, so it’s a perfect time to seek their commitment to active participation in elections, supporters say.
The bill passed the Assembly and was sent to the Senate last month on a party-line vote, 45-31, with no GOP support.
Maybe the GOP passed on supporting the bill because the Public Policy Institute of California have found that among voters 18 to 24, Democrats lead in voter registration with 40 percent, followed by independents, 31 percent; Republicans, 22 percent; and minor-party supporters, 7 percent.
SPURRED BY ACTIVISM
Last fall, the case of the Jena Six showed the nation two things: The ugly image of racism still exists and the passion of young people to rally behind an important cause.
The September 20 rally in Jena, Louisiana, saw college students and young adults take charge and let their voice be heard. It was a scene that many of the older generation never thought would happen and it was seen as a torch passing to a generation willing to get involved.
For most, it was the first time they had actively participated in a rally of this magnitude—one of the largest in recent years—or any for that matter. It gave an eager generation a taste of the 1960’s but with a modern edge.
More importantly, it was one of the first times that this generation spoke and people actually listened. It was that feeling of acceptance that has perhaps spurred many to seek a calling greater than themselves.
Through blogs and other internet journals, they are not only getting the news faster but they are having their say about this presidential election as well as global issues like the Darfur crisis in the African country of Sudan
But today’s climate also forces them to not just think globally but act locally, which is why they are also choosing to get involved in elections that affect state and city leaders as well.
The Second District Supervisorial race is a battle between two veterans of Los Angeles politics in State Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas and City Councilman Bernard Parks.
Both have relied on tried and true support of labor and a mixed coalition (Ridley-Thomas) or the well-established political base (Parks). But the key to both campaigns is finding ways to appeal to young voters who want to make change in their communities and want leaders who will listen to them.
What the rally in Jena demonstrated was that this generation is not going to sit back and be told what the status quo is. They are going to actively determine the shape of their world and make those in power listen to them.
Most of all, they have talked with their friends and it is those conversations that stimulate dialogue and ensure that when future national and local issues arise, they will throw their voice into the mix and not fear being ignored.
HERE TO STAY
This is not a phenomenon restricted to the 2008 elections. This is a movement that will continue to grow as more youth discover their voice and use technology to project it to the masses.
As long as those who are older and those in government find ways to reach out to a younger crowd, apathy and disillusionment will not be a major issue facing our future.
To put it simply, young voters want to be heard and they want people in office who will hear their voice.