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Young Voters Demand to be Heard


By Heather Grace Wagner

Flagstaff, AZ – Host Intro:

In this year's primary elections, more young people, ages 18-29, voted than ever before. The young voter population that in past elections said there was no point in voting- now has become a target for the candidates, and a driving force for the campaigns. So why all the enthusiasm now? What does it mean? And, perhaps the most important question, will they actually show up to vote? Arizona Public Radio's Heather Grace Wagner reports.

Corey Kewen is an 18-year-old Freshman at Northern Arizona University. He says he's definitely voting. And, he knows who he's voting for.

"Obama, of course. He seems like the most likely for change. We're so used to the same kind of candidates, over and over "

Most college students have only known two families in the White House. So it's not surprising that both Democratic AND Republican students say they want change. Kewen also says it's empowering to make his own decision. And for him, like many students, that means voting differently than his parents.

"Because they're Republican. Ya my Dad called me and was like, "The presidential debates were on the other night- did you catch it- are you voting for McCain? Didn't think so- we're raising a liberal!"

The majority of young voters share Kewen's excitement for Obama. A recent poll from The Harvard Institute of Politics shows Obama is now favored by young voters by 26 percent. 20 year old NAU student John Carter III says even though he's leaning toward McCain, he knows it's way more COOL for a person his age to support Obama.

"Barack Obama has that swing. He's a younger guy, his interviews are a lot different than what others choose to do. You'll see him on TV playing basketball with people, and then do an interview right after. And he's the first African American. Whereas John McCain is an old white guy, who's kind of a dull person when you see him."

Young voters all say it's cool to be interested in politics these days. But many also say they're voting because they feel their political concerns have been overlooked in the past. 18-year old NAU student Matt Stegner explains.

"People complain so much about how politicians don't appeal to younger crowds, but that's because younger crowds don't vote. So if they did, the candidates would pay more attention to what younger crowds want the idea that young people are starting to get some sort of political power- that's exciting."

But young people can't exercise that NEWFOUND political power unless they actually show up to vote. Fred Solop, chair of Northern Arizona University's Department of Politics and Social Affairs, says the excitement among students this year is noticeably strong.

"What we've seen in the last election cycle is more young people got involved, and so they became more known on the political scene as an important voice and a voice that could make a difference. But what we also know is 18-24 year olds have the worst turnout record of any age group Once they register, can you turn them out to vote? That's a whole different question."

Young voters have turned out in gradually higher numbers over the last four congressional elections. John Della Volpe, director of polling for the Harvard Institute of Politics, has tracked the sentiments of young voters for the past 8 years. He says 9-11 has fundamentally changed young people's views. Before then, they were extremely involved in community service, but not politics.

"The reason is one of the barriers to participation back in the 80s and the 90s was that they didn't think politics was an effective way to deal with the nation's problems. They'd rather deal with them on the local level. That changed after Sept. 11."

And, Della Volpe says young peoples' enthusiasm goes beyond just voting. He says they're not afraid to take things into their own hands.

"Over half of Obama's supporters indicate they'd be willing to volunteer in some serious way, if asked by his campaign. Almost half of the McCain people feel the same way."

While most people are excited about the enthusiasm in young voters, it does worry some OLDER voters who fear they could just be following trends. Esther Mayo lives at the Peaks Senior Living Community in Flagstaff.

"I feel that a lot of them are voting with their heart and not their head. .. I'm not sure they're thinking through all the issues, as they should. And that's what bothers me Hopefully it will be good for the country, I hope it will in the end, but I have my doubts about some things."

Those doubts aren't shared by Harvard's John Della Volpe. He says this generation is much better informed than many older voters give them credit for.

For Arizona Public Radio, I'm Heather Grace Wagner.