Mark Hugo Lopez,
Research Director at the Center for Information and Research on Civic
Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), and a Professor of Economics at the
University of Maryland, spoke to Washington File staff writer Alexandra
Abboud about Youth Voting and the 2004 Presidential Election.
Q: How Important is the youth vote in the United States
LOPEZ:Young voters represent about 18-20 million votes,
depending on what age group we’re looking at, and that’s
a tremendous number of votes. In 1992, about 20 million young people
between the ages of 18 and 29 turned out to vote. And in the 2000 election,
about18 million young voters participated in the election.
That represents a swing of about two million people. Youth voter mobilization
campaigns such as Rock the Vote and the World Wrestling Entertainment
Group’s Smackdown Your Vote! campaign, are all pushing to get
another two million young people to vote in the 2004 election over the
2000 election. That number would equal the number of youths that voted
in 1992 and could also be enough votes to swing an election. And so
you will probably hear a lot of organizations talking about the impact,
or the potential impact that young people could have, because they do
represent a large group. They can swing elections if they're mobilized
and therefore, a lot of organizations are trying to mobilize young people
to get involved.
Q: The voting age in the United States was lowered 18 years
of age with the ratification of the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
in 1971. Have young voters been taking advantage of this right to vote
LOPEZ:Youth voter turnout among 18 to 25 year olds
since 1972 — the first presidential election where young people
between 18 and 20 could vote — was at about 50-55 percent. Since
then, it’s steadily dropped by 13 percentage points. The only
exception was the 1992 presidential election where there was a huge
spike in voter turnout among young people. In 1992, the youth voter
turnout almost matched that of 1972.
was the reason for the spike in youth voting in the 1992 election?
LOPEZ: There are several possible reasons for the upward
spike in 1992. Perhaps the two most obvious reasons are first, the election
was a contested election and second, because there were three candidates
running — Ross Perot, Bill Clinton, and George Bush — young
voters felt like they had a diverse choice in candidates.
A lot of pollsters that I’ve talked to have suggested that having
an independent candidate actually tends to bring out young people more.
And this is important, because we know that about a third of all young
people are independents.
there any indications that the decline in youth voter turnout is reversing?
LOPEZ: We were hoping to see some indication that youth
voter turnout was rising this year in early Democratic primaries; however,
there is mixed evidence that youth voter turnout will be up this year.
While more young people participated in the Democratic primaries this
year than they did in 2000, this year there was no contested Republican
primary. So, overall, in 2000, more people voted in both the Democratic
and Republican primaries than have voted in just the Democratic primaries
this year. Therefore, it’s misleading to say that voter turnout
is up, just because the Democratic numbers are up. This is particularly
a problem in states where Independents can vote in eithe rthe democratic
or republican primary or both.
Q: You’ve mentioned organizations such as Rock the
Vote that have programs to register young voters and engage them in
the political process. Are these programs effective?
LOPEZ: I think
that it is difficult to measure the success of these groups. However,
they tend to register a lot of young people for the first time, and
they also tend to register young people in places where young people
are clustered, such as colleges.
I don’t think we have enough research to tell how effective they
are, but my sense is that they can be
For those young people who do vote, what influenced them to vote and
what influences who they vote for?
LOPEZ: Most of the young people who vote tend to be college
educated, and they tend to come from families where the parents discussed
politics with them, and they tend to come from places which generally
had stronger civic education programs.
Also, young voters are more likely to be white or black, and less likely
to be Hispanic. And in recent elections, they’re more likely to
be female than male.
a sizeable chunk of young people who just are not engaged, and many
are non-college educated. And today, those non-college youth don’t
have the paths to engagement they used to have such as labor union membership,
a traditional path towards engagement among non-college youth.
In contrast, college students are concentrated in one place, usually
on campus, and these organizations that we were just talking about go
to the colleges. The non-college youth are dispersed with no central
place to go.
In terms of influences on those young people who do vote, we know that
they tend to vote a lot like their parents. College students will generally
tend to be more liberal and
non-college students will generally tend to be more conservative.
Internet has played an important role in the election thus far. How
important is the Internet in engaging young voters?
LOPEZ: We’ve found in our own surveys here at CIRCLE
that campaigns can try to reach out to young people with different technologies.
There are many more technologies available today than there were in
2000. The Internet plays a large part in that. But we have found that
young people oftentimes are turned off by a lot of
these technologies, some of which include things like text messaging
on your cell phone or receiving email updates.
We found young people
were very turned off, for example, by receiving a text message from
a candidate with an update on the campaign. They also do not like Spam
mail from candidates. However, anything that they can opt into, like
receiving weekly e-mail updates from a candidate, they tend to like.
CIRCLE has funded
a research project, which looks at whether or not sending a non-partisan
e-mail to encourage young people to register, and encouraging them to
vote would actually impact the voter turnout and voter registration
rates of young people in
colleges. A lot of students just threw it away and didn't even read
it. For those who did read it, it doesn’t appear to have had any
impact on their propensity to vote, or their propensity to register
to vote. So, I think the Internet is a mixed story. I think it’s
another medium, it has a lot of potential, but candidates have to be
careful about how they use it, because they could end up turning off
Q: Both Republicans and Democrats are reaching out to Latino
voters with Spanish Language campaign ads and by other methods. Are
the political parties
reaching Latino youth?
MR. LOPEZ: No, Latino youth are actually, among all youth,
more likely to say things like “Candidates don’t come to
my community, candidates don’t talk to people like me,
candidates would rather talk to wealthier, older voters than me.”
They're more likely to say that than their young white or black counterparts.
And generally speaking, a large
minority of young people feel like candidates don't pay attention to
Young Latino voters
are the ones who are most likely to feel that the political candidates
don’t pay attention to their concerns, or to their issues. So,
it’s quite interesting that, yes, the parties are reaching out
to Latinos, but I think they’re reaching out to the older Latino
voter than the younger Latino voter.
Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE)
CIRCLE promotes research on the civic and political engagement of Americans
between the ages of 15 and 25. It is based in the University of Maryland's
School of Public Affairs.
It is estimated
that the youth vote in the United States includes 30 million 18-to-30-year-olds
throughout the country. However, despite their large numbers, young
voters accounted for less than 4 percent of the entire voting population
in the 2000 elections.
Mindful of the untapped potential of young voters, a number of non-governmental
organizations and political groups are working actively to encourage
their civic participation. Many of these organizations define themselves
as non-partisan, that is, not belonging to or supporting any political
party. Others, however, may promote a particular political agenda. Following
is a sample of the more prominent organizations that seek to mobilize
Declare Yourself is a national non-partisan, non-profit campaign to
mobilize young voters to participate in the 2004 presidential election.
Declare Yourself is sponsoring a live spoken word and music tour of
college campuses; a nationwide voter education initiative for high school
seniors; a comprehensive election information Web site; an
extensive online awareness campaign; a massive voter registration drive;
a televised “get out the vote” concert; and public service
The New Voters Project
The New Voters Project is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated
increasing voter turnout among citizens age 18-24 on Election Day 2004.
The Project’s goal is to register more than 265,000 voters on
college campuses and other youth venues. It is concentrating its efforts
on six U.S. states — Colorado, Iowa, Oregon, Wisconsin, New Mexico,
and Nevada — states that have high concentrations of young voters
in small geographic areas.
Republican National Committee
The College Republican National Committee is the nationwide coordinating
organization for the Republican youth movement. With over 120,000 members
on 1,148 college campuses, the Committee works for the election of Republican
candidates and the communication of a conservative message to college
Young Democrats of America
The Young Democrats of America is the official youth arm of the Democratic
Party and is open to anyone under the age of 36 who affiliates themselves
with the Democratic
Party. The 43,