Youth Movement at the Polls

By Zachary A. Goldfarb and Peter Slevin
Sunday, November 12, 2006

Early returns from Tuesday's elections show that young people were particularly inspired to cast ballots, a result that drew cheers from voter activists.

Two million more people under the age of 30 voted in the midterm elections than in 2002, according to an analysis by the University of Maryland's Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

Twenty-four percent of those 18 to 29 who were eligible voted, the center concluded, up from 20 percent in 2002. The increase is the largest ever among young voters for midterm elections, and it dwarfed the 1 percent rise among the electorate overall from 2002 to 2006.

Turnout more than doubled in 36 precincts where nonpartisan young-voter groups focused their get-out-the-vote efforts. "It's a pretty strong statement," said Heather Smith, director of Young Voter Strategies.

Smith's nonpartisan group, based at George Washington University, delivered grants to organizations that registered 500,000 voters this year. The groups found that peer-to-peer efforts, rather than telephone calls or mail, are particularly successful in getting young people to vote.

Exit poll data from the elections suggested that the increase in youth turnout aided Democrats in capturing control of Congress. In House races, young people formed the most supportive age group, with 61 percent voting Democratic.

In 2004, young-voter turnout substantially increased, and the 18-to-29 age group strongly supported the presidential candidacy of Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.). This year's findings have raised hopes among Democrats that this is a voting bloc poised to vote for their party for years to come.

"We're very excited about this," said Jane Fleming, executive director of the Young Democrats of America, adding that 2008 "will be the real test."

Daley Machine Rolls On

The stars are aligning again for Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (D), who has done everything but formally announce his intention to seek a sixth term.

His two main rivals, Democratic members of Congress, declared that they are content to remain in their current jobs, thanks in part to the national election results.

Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. had once said he was 75 percent certain to challenge Daley, and Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez had also been mulling a run against the popular Chicago politician.

Daley, 64, is more than halfway through his 18th year in City Hall. If he wins as expected in February, when he is likely to face Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown and Bill "Dock" Walls, an aide to the late mayor Harold Washington, he would be positioned to overtake his father as Chicago's longestserving mayor in December 2010.

Although Daley won his fifth term with 79 percent of the vote in 2003, a series of scandals has circled ever closer to his office. A federal jury this year convicted his patronage chief, Robert Sorich, of rigging city jobs in return for campaign work for Daley. Prosecutors continue to investigate.

In a sign that Cook County's Democratic machine remains potent, voters elected Todd Stroger as county board president Tuesday. The lightly regarded Stroger, 43, a Chicago alderman, was appointed to fill the ballot spot of his father, John H. Stroger Jr., after the elder Stroger suffered a stroke.

A Matter of Money

The party campaign committees in Washington spent more than $230 million on behalf of House and Senate candidates this year, according to the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute. The figure slightly exceeds what was spent in 2002, before a federal law banned large, unregulated contributions to committees from wealthy individuals.

"Politics has shifted from being a one-on-one game, with the candidates all for themselves, to a team game," said Michael J. Malbin, the institute's executive director. "The parties have become crucial. You can see this in almost all of the close races in both chambers in 2006 -- but especially in the last-minute spending that determined majority control in the Senate."

On average, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent $5.2 million on behalf of each of the six Senate candidates who defeated a GOP incumbent.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company