This Time We Mean It: The Youth Vote Matters

A Minneapolis crowd reflects the degree to which young people have warmed to the Democratic candidates, particularly Barack Obama.
A Minneapolis crowd reflects the degree to which young people have warmed to the Democratic candidates, particularly Barack Obama. (By Jim Mone -- Associated Press)
By Chris Cillizza and Shailagh Murray
Sunday, April 27, 2008

Election after election, when all the obvious story lines are exhausted, the media tend to turn to an oldie but goody: "Will this be the race where young people finally start voting?" Youth vote advocates insist that young people are more dialed in than ever this year, while political hacks who have been in the business for decades roll their eyes at the notion.

Given that, The Fix recognizes the danger in making the following statement: The youth vote will matter in 2008. A look back over the last few months shows a massive increase in youth (people ages 18 through 29) voting; the number of young people voting quadrupled in Tennessee and tripled in states such as Iowa, Missouri and Texas, according to a new study by Harvard University's Institute of Politics.

The report goes on to say that the growth in young people's participation in the electoral process is not a "one-time phenomenon" but, rather, represents a "civic reawakening of a new generation."

That conclusion is affirmed by polling conducted by MTV and CBS News -- survey data that provide a detailed and nuanced analysis of the burgeoning 18-to-29 vote.

Some of the results from the polls will surprise no one.

Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) leads Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) 48 percent to 37 in a Democratic primary matchup. In general-election trial heats, both Clinton and Obama best Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). Obama leads McCain 52 percent to 39 percent, while Clinton holds 51 percent to 41 percent.

While none of those hypothetical results turns conventional wisdom on its head (younger voters tend to favor Democrats, and Obama has spent considerable time in the campaign courting young voters), the issues that the MTV-CBS poll unearthed as most important to young voters might flip the script, at least a bit.

The economy was by far the most important issue to the group -- a noteworthy development that suggests the concerns of young voters are not so different from the worries of the older electorate.

Twenty-two percent of the MTV-CBS sample named the economy as the top issue facing their generation, more than double the proportion who said the same in June 2007.

Much of the unrest among young people about the state of the economy may have to do with their declining job prospects. In the poll, just 3 percent said the job prospects for their age group were "excellent," while a whopping 67 percent called their chances of getting a job either "fair" (42 percent) or "poor" (25 percent).

While about half of the poll's sample said politicians were paying the "right amount" of attention to the economy, 29 percent said those same politicians were devoting enough time to talking about jobs for young people.

The poll also contained heartening news for the mainstream media. More than 7 in 10 respondents said "a lot" of their information about politics comes from either newspapers or television news; 15 percent said they get most of their information about politics from blogs -- Fix readers, unite! -- while 12 percent said they get "a lot" of political information from "late night talk and comedy shows."

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