NAICU Washington Update

Outreach to Youth Vote Pays Dividends

National focus groups conducted last fall by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) showed that college students were deeply concerned about issues, involved personally as volunteers, and ready to consider voting.

Flash back for a moment, and recall that 70 percent of young people, ages 18-29 said they were registered to vote in the 2004 election. Separating out individuals with some college or who have attained their B.A. or above, the voter registration rate rises to 79 to 87 percent. Add to those statistics the fact that since 1972 (with one exception), whenever youth voter registration rates rose from one year to the next, the youth voter turnout also increased.

The National Campus Voter Registration Project (NCVRP), co-chaired by NAICU President David Warren, has long called for candidates and policymakers to reach out to students. In turn, the NCVRP, with the support of college presidents from all sectors, has invested time and energy in encouraging the civic engagement of our campus communities in every gubernatorial or federal election since 1996. This long-term investment paid dividends in the 2006 mid-term elections, when 10 million 18- to 29-year-olds voted in the election – an increase of 2 million over the previous 2002 midterm elections.

Now fast forward to the current presidential campaign. Youth turnout in the Iowa caucuses tripled compared to 2004. Over 65,000 Iowans under the age of 30 caucused – 60 percent for the first time. In New Hampshire, the youth turnout rate jumped from 18 percent in 2004 to 43 percent in 2008. More than 84,000 18- to 29-year-olds voted in the New Hampshire primary, according to estimates by CIRCLE. That is a 271 percent increase over 2004 levels.

One key difference this year is that the candidates themselves are reaching out to young voters. For example, Hillary Clinton's campaign has targeted young women and young people in general, between the ages of 25-29. Barack Obama's campaign has focused on reaching college-aged young people. Candidates such as Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Ron Paul, and Mitt Romney have also benefited from the youth vote.

We have quite a way to go until the General Election on November 4. If the primaries are any indication, though, college students and their youth vote cohort will be fully engaged in the political process. The NCVRP will continue to encourage every member of the campus community to participate in nonpartisan civic engagement. What an investment!

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