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Volume 72, Issue 63, Thursdsay, November 16, 2006

News

A TURNING TIDE?

Gains made in youth voter turnout

by CHELSEA ADAMS
The Daily Cougar

This year's turnout among young voters in Texas has yet to be determined, but the number of registered voters under the age of 30 increased by 1 percent compared with the 2002 midterms, according to the secretary of state.

A nationwide preliminary study of exit poll data found that an estimated 2 million more young Americans turned out to vote for the 2006 midterms than in 2002.

Young voters accounted for 13 percent of voters, according to Young Voter Strategies, a non-partisan clearinghouse for research and polling on young voters.

Though Texas still ranks near the bottom of the list for statewide voter turnout, the increase reflects a national trend of younger voters getting involved in the process, said Kathleen Barr, media coordinator for Young Voter Strategies.

"It is an increase over the last midterm election, which I take as an indication that voters in Texas are also becoming more engaged, as they did in 2004, when turnout increased in the state and nationwide," she said.

Throughout the country, voter awareness campaigns like Rock the Vote and campus registration drives aimed to increase overall participation. Additionally, universities have been required to encourage students to register since Congress passed the Higher Education Act of 1998.

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement estimated the percentage of young eligible voters who cast votes jumped four percentage points, repeating the pattern seen in the last major election.

"This is an extraordinary turnout for young voters," CIRCLE Director Peter Levine said.

Pollsters also found that, motivated by dissatisfaction with the Iraq war, rising costs of education, jobs and the economy, young people all over the country not only voted in higher numbers, they also voted overwhelmingly for Democrats.

"In House races, 61 percent of young people voted for Democratic candidates -- the highest proportion for any age group," Levine said.

A non-scientific survey of UH students conducted before Election Day by The Daily Cougar echoes this sentiment to some extent.

Out of 288 randomly selected students, 35 percent said they were voting for Democrats, 17 percent for Republicans and 19 percent were independents.

Together, Libertarians and Green Party voters amounted to four percent. 

Though some noted that they were not eligible to vote, 25 percent of respondents said they weren't voting.

Sam Keeper, president of the Houston Chapter of the League of Women Voters, said young people are less likely to vote because of the complexity of the various campaign issues, ballot initiatives and propositions, and because they tend to be less settled and more distracted than older voters.

"The average voter in Harris County probably had to vote on maybe 60 different positions in Houston and on eight bond propositions; the people in Bellaire voted on another slew of them, and in Baytown another slew of them," Keeper said. "It's hard for a really well-informed person to keep up with all of that."

Those who take classes in government or civics have more interest in voting, Keeper said.

"There's a direct correlation between people who take courses in government or civics or that kind of thing and their (increased) interest in voting," Keeper said.

Though candidates have reached out to young voters on Web sites like YouTube and Myspace, Barr told the Iowa City Press-Citizen that "person-to-person peer outreach is the best way" to engage young voters.
 

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