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Election Focus 2004

Youth Voters Concerned about the Economy, National Security
Polls show younger and older voters agree on issues

Although much of the public perceives political activism among youth as centered on social issues, public polls and other research conducted during the 2004 election season demonstrate that young voters are concerned with many of the same issues as their adult counterparts. According to a and Genext poll of 18-to-29 year olds in February 2004, youth voters are most concerned about unemployment, the economy and national security issues.

The environment — a traditional rallying point for young activists — is considered the most important issue facing the United States by only six percent of young voters according to the poll.

Contrast that with young voters’ concern about the economy — the poll showed 25 percent of young voters ranking it the most important issue — and it appears that concerns of young voters are almost identical to that of older voters.

David Skaggs, Executive Director of the Center for Democracy & Citizenship Program at the Council for Excellence in Government and former U.S. Congressman (D-CO-2nd), is not surprised that young voters are concerned with the same issues as older voters.

According to former Congressman Skaggs, research from his organization, which includes the Campaign for Young Voters, a Web-based campaign to help Congressional candidates win over voters ages 18-25, “reconfirmed the proposition that the top three or four issues for younger people at any time are going to look a lot like the top three or four issues for older people.”

The difference however, will be in the way the candidates frame the debate on these issues with younger candidates, he said. “You might deal with social security with an older audience in terms of protecting it and making sure that benefits are there,” said Congressman Skaggs. “Its relevance to younger audiences will have to do with the fact that they’re going to be footing the bill... because it’s coming out of their taxes for the next forty years.”

When addressing the economy — an issue that is of great importance to young voters according to recent polls — Congressman Skaggs noted that while for younger voters the concern might be lack of new jobs, older voters fear losing their current job. It is essentially the same overall issue, but with different focus points, and candidates will need to understand and address these differences if they hope to connect to younger voters, he said.

Congressman Skaggs was quick to point out, however, that addressing a similar issue in a different way does not mean that candidates should adjust their overall behavior for a younger audience. “Candidates think they have to behave differently for a younger audience,” he said. “That’s exactly the wrong thing to do as younger audiences are even more insistent on authenticity and being yourself than are older audiences.”

And how can candidates insure that young voters feel their issues are being addressed? “The main thing candidates need to do is ask,” said Congressman Skaggs. “As with any potential voter, young voters like to be taken seriously and they like to be asked for their opinion and support.”