The presidential election is only a week away and still no one's quite sure who is going to be living in the White House for the next four years. Every poll seems to say something different and the only sure thing seems to be just how unsure every political pundit is about who will be the 44th president of the United States. In such a close election it's not just hyperbole to use the adage, 'every vote counts.' At the polls, it doesn't matter whether you're 88, voting in your 16th presidential election, or you're 18, voting in your 1st. Both votes count just the same, regardless of life experience. For that reason, it's no wonder that in such a contested election, both candidates are aggressively courting the youth vote.
"There's a lot more outreach this time around then there had been in 2000. Even the campaigns have appointed youth directors to coordinate the youth vote," explains Mark Hugo Lopez, research director at the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). "I think you'll see young people potentially playing a big role particularly if they turn out in high numbers in swing states."
In an attempt to better understand this potentially important group of voters, CIRCLE teamed up with MTV to poll 18-to 29-year-olds on topics related to the 2004 presidential election. This group of young people represents 21 percent of the population with over 40 million eligible voters. Over two-thirds fall in between 18 and 25 years old, meaning a huge portion of this population will be voting for the first time. However, even though so many of them are new to politics doesn't mean that they're not interested. Thirty-four percent responded that they were paying 'a lot' of attention to the 2004 presidential campaign, the highest response since 1992. In comparison, just 16 percent said they were paying a lot of attention in 2000. "Young people are interested because this is such a close election," says Lopez. "With that said, I'll also point out that while young people are interested, I think their interest level is still below that of adults."
While their interest level may be below adults, it turns out that the issues young registered voters consider when choosing a presidential candidate are nearly the same as their older counterparts. The top three issues for young voters are 'the economy and jobs,' 'terrorism and national security' and 'the war in Iraq.' These align very closely to the issues that voting adults are most interested in. This wasn't exactly the response that Lopez expected before conducting the survey. "At first I was surprised. I expected to see the cost of education as number one. But when I thought about it more it certainly made a lot of sense because young people are obviously facing a lot of the same economic conditions and issues regarding the war on terror. So why should we expect them to be any different?"
During every election it's common to hear about the importance of the youth vote and after every election it's common to hear that youth once again are not well enough represented. However, in an election where nothing is certain and neither candidate is a lock to hold the keys to the country for the next four years, these first time voters could tip the balance if they come out in the numbers of which they are capable.