Spin Control

SUNDAY, OCT. 3, 2010, 12:06 A.M.

Courting the Youth Vote? Let’s get real

After listening to decades of hype about young voters, I have a request.

Don’t bug me about Rock the Vote, unless it’s something akin to “Rock Around the Clock” the Vote. You got a program for Swing the Vote or Jitterbug the Vote or even Charleston the Vote, I’ll listen. They’re the ones who vote.

Statistics for the Aug. 17 primary released last week by the secretary of state’s office suggest that, to paraphrase Sam Goldwyn (a guy young voters probably have never heard of), voters under 35 stayed away in droves....

Voters between ages 18 and 34 make up 24 percent of all the registrations in the state. They cast 10 percent of the ballots in the primary. Folks older than 55 make up about 40 percent of the state’s electorate; they cast 60 percent of the votes.

Every presidential election year, strategists – followed by national political pundits – fawn over the “youth vote.” It happened in 2008 as they opined, with very little evidence, that the chance to elect a charismatic, young, African-American candidate would drive young voters to the polls. Didn’t happen. The total number of 18- to 24-year-olds on the rolls in Washington state actually went down slightly between 2004 and 2008, and they made up a smaller chunk of the state’s electorate. About two-thirds of those who registered did vote. Good for them, but 90 percent of registered voters 55 and older did the same.

All this means that young people today are about like young people of previous years. No better and no worse, but certainly not special no matter what their teachers told them. It also suggests that candidates bragging about how many people follow them on Twitter may be tweeting up the wrong social networking tree – at least until 20-somethings start to disdain those 140-character messages because even their grandparents are on Twitter.

So let’s stop swooning when Lady Gaga makes a pitch for ending “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Let Katy Perry chase Elmo around Sesame Street, but don’t suggest she can chase young voters to the polls.

To 20-somethings out there who think this is sooo unfair, don’t bother to call to whine. Instead, prove me wrong: Register by tomorrow if you aren’t yet signed up, and then for criminy sakes pay attention and vote.

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The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.