Millennial Voters

Sunday, June 15, 2008


How Today's Young Voters Are Building Tomorrow's Progressive Majority

By Michael Connery | Ig. 203 pp. Paperback, $14.95


How the Hip-Hop Generation Declared Political Independence

By Keli Goff | BasicCivitas. 294 pp. Paperback, $16.95

Young people don't vote. Or so the old stereotype goes. Yet, voters under 30 helped put Democrats back in power on Capitol Hill in 2006, and they turned out in record numbers in the protracted primary between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

In Youth to Power, Michael Connery explains both the origin of the stereotype and why it's no longer correct. He traces the history of the youth vote from the excitement of the 1972 election (a year after the 26th Amendment reduced the voting age to 18) to a low point in 1996, when barely 40 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds went to the polls. With a few exceptions, turnout among young voters steadily declined in the '80s and '90s. The downturn was partly generational, Connery contends; the glorified activism of the '60s served as "an inspiration" but also as "a burden," particularly for left-leaning youth. It was as if young liberals took a long break.

Meanwhile, the '70s and '80s witnessed what Connery calls the rise of the GOP's "conservative youth factory," including such groups as the Young America's Foundation and the College Republican National Committee. Generation X swung right, becoming "one of the most Republican demographics in the country," he writes, but also exhibiting a high rate of political apathy.

No more. The generation that came of age since 2000, the Millennials, is the most ethnically diverse in U.S. history and, Connery says, one of the "most civic-minded." Millennials also lean left: In 2002, 37 percent of young voters self-identified as Democrats and 39 percent as Republicans. Four years later, the figures had reversed, with 31 percent Republican and 43 percent Democrat.

Connery is a liberal activist. By contrast, after reading Party Crashing, it's hard to tell where author Keli Goff stands in partisan terms -- and that's exactly her point. "That black Americans are Democrats," she notes, "has been one of the most reliable truisms" in politics. But, in her view, the current hip-hop generation is not easily pigeonholed: About 30 percent of black Americans between 18 and 35 identify as independents, and they do not share a "single black political agenda."

Race matters, Goff writes in her engaging book full of pop-culture references, but to young blacks who grew up in the world of O.J. Simpson, Michael Jackson and Kobe Bryant, what matters even more is "money, fame, power and who your defense attorney is."

-- Jose Antonio Vargas is a political reporter for The Washington Post.

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