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Will young elect to vote?

Tue., Nov. 7, 2006

Andrew Condon is sitting this one out.

The 21-year-old Eastern Washington University student says he feels remote from the issues and candidates, and so “this year, I’m going to actively not vote.”

“I don’t feel connected to any of the issues directly,” Condon said on the Cheney campus Monday. “Or even slightly indirectly.”

Audrey Mattoon, on the other hand, wouldn’t miss it. Today will be the first time the 19-year-old University of Idaho student casts a ballot.

“I do see it as something that has an effect,” she said, “especially in local and state elections.”

A lot of money and time have been spent by the government, activist groups and MTV in recent years in efforts to drive up voting among young adults like Mattoon and Condon. Today’s election is partly a referendum on those efforts.

Some observers hope the record turnout from college-age voters in the 2004 presidential race will carry over. A recent Harvard poll showed that 32 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds said they would “definitely” vote today – which would be a midterm election record if it happens.

Others note the dismal turnout from the 2002 midterm, when 22 percent of voters under 30 turned out compared to 52 percent of older voters.

Some students and professors on campuses in the Inland Northwest say students largely feel detached from this year’s vote.

“I don’t see as much interest as I did in the last election,” said Gary Krug, associate professor of communication studies at EWU. “Students just don’t, for the most part, think the midterms are that big a deal.”

Krug used to be the faculty adviser for EWU’s Young Democrats. This year, there isn’t such a club, for lack of student interest.

Noah Patterson, a Whitworth senior, registered Republican and former president of the school’s political action club, said he and his friends are intensely interested in the elections.

“I probably have a different experience from most people my age,” he said. “Most of my friends are interested in the election, have already sent out their absentee ballots – they’ve all researched candidates and positions.”

Mattoon is a Lewiston resident and president of the UI College Democrats. She said that this election season she’s heard from lots of students who aren’t registered, won’t vote, don’t care.

“People have to see how the political affects their lives,” she said.

There are 41.9 million Americans age 18 to 29 eligible to vote – about 21 percent of the electorate. Thirty-five percent identify themselves as Democrats or leaning that way; for Republicans, it’s 28 percent, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

In 2004, 47 percent of eligible voters under 30 cast a ballot – a big improvement over 2000, but still below the 61 percent turnout for older voters, according to CIRCLE.

Midterm elections typically draw fewer voters of all ages. But Kevin Decker, an associate professor of philosophy at EWU, thinks that the intensity of feeling from 2004 may still be there.

“I think there’s a great likelihood that there’s still an underlying current from two years ago that’s going to motivate young voters,” he said. “The main issue I’ve heard people talking about in my classes … is the war and I think that’s a substantive one, and whether or not the Democrats have anything to offer if they win a majority.”

Decker is the faculty adviser for the Humanist Action League, which today is hosting a get-out-the-vote effort called Novemberfest on the EWU campus.

Krug said many students don’t yet see the connection between their daily lives and participating in government. “It’s kind of an abstraction, and it’s hard for them to see why they should be motivated by this abstraction,” he said.

Observers cited several other reasons for the disaffection among some young voters: a lack of trust in the election system after disputes in the 2000 and 2004 elections; disappointment in the candidates themselves and the quality of governance; and the fact that campaigns don’t typically target people their age.

Condon, the EWU student who’s not voting this time, said it’s a two-way street.

“We don’t get a lot from them, and they don’t get a lot from us,” he said.


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