About Young Voter Participation

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    Identification

    • What makes a young voter? Polling groups decide, and it turns out that you don't actually have to be that young to be classified as a young voter. Obviously, the lower end of the age range is 18 years, but depending on the pollster or political action group young voters grow up at anywhere from 25 to 35 years old. The general definition, used by large pollsters such as the Pew Research Center and Gallup, is that young voters are aged 18 to 29 years.

    History

    • For most of American history, youth wasn't a voting issue, as many people couldn't vote regardless of their age. Property requirements kept poorer men from voting during the early part of the 19th century. Black men were finally able to vote after the 15th Amendment guaranteed voting rights to all races in 1870, but testing requirements (which also blocked poor white people from voting) and violent intimidation campaigns kept them away from the polls in the South until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Women of any race could not vote until the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

    Youth movement

    • Voting age became an issue in the 1960s, during the Vietnam War. While the draft age was 18, in most states the minimum voting age was 21. Many people felt that it was unfair that men who were old enough to be compelled to go to war were not allowed a voice in selecting their government. In 1970, Congress passed a law which brought the minimum voting age down to 18 in federal, state and local elections, and a year later the 26th Amendment was passed, guaranteeing voting rights to all citizens age 18 and over.

    Outreach

    • Despite this expansion of the voting age, participation among young voters has traditionally been low, with turnout actually decreasing between 1982 and 1998. To counteract this trend, voter outreach programs have been created to appeal to young voters to register and go to the polls. Well-known groups include "Rock the Vote," famous for its celebrity-studded public service announcements, and music mogul P. Diddy's 2004 effort "Citizens Change," with its "Vote or Die!" slogan. The Internet has allowed political campaigns to reach out through mediums popular with young people, such as social networking sites.

    Current trends

    • Voting participation among voters aged 18 to 29 has been increasing since 2002. In the 2004 presidential election, young voter participation rose by almost five million people, and young voter turnout in the 2006 Congressional elections jumped to 24 percent from 2002's 20 percent. Pollsters found that concerns over the Iraq war and the economy sparked young voters' increased interest. This recent upward trend is encouraging for the Democrats, as the majority of these new young voters have leaned towards the Democratic party.

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