College-age voter turnout not so high as predicted

Seth Freedland

Despite predictions of a strong turnout, polling data from Tuesday’s election suggests that young people voted in about the same proportions as four years ago.

Exit poll data showed that 18 to 24 year olds accounted for 17 percent of all voters, roughly identical to the figure for 2000. Young voters favored Sen. John Kerry, with 56 percent backing the Democratic challenger and 43 percent choosing President Bush, according to the polls.

Analysts still had predicted an increase in participation among young voters from 2000. In that election, only 36 percent of eligible voters 18 to 24 years old participated. Similar data is not yet available for this year’s election.

Across all age groups, 70 percent of registered voters went to the polls Tuesday, compared with 63 percent in 2000, the Associated Press reported.

Medill School of Journalism Associate Prof. Jack Doppelt, who co-authored the book “Nonvoters: America’s No-Shows,” said he was “disappointed” by the college-age turnout, especially because the election dominated the national culture in the months beforehand.

“I think the Michael Moore-like efforts coming out that were appealing to young people were successful in penetrating the pop culture and the buzz,” he said. “For what it’s worth, (the election) was clearly part of the conversation.”

The unprecedented barrage of election-related pop culture references ranged from Sean “P. Diddy” Combs’ “Vote or Die!” campaign to rapper Eminem’s latest music video, “Mosh,” depicting a young mob marching to the polls.

Experts also pointed to the vast number of new voters registered by pro-Kerry or anti-Bush groups, such as MoveOn.org, to reverse a negative trend in young voter turnout which has fallen one-third in the last 30 years. But outside groups had some problems getting 18 to 24 year olds to the polls, and Kerry’s young-person boost was tempered, experts said.

For students like McCormick junior Myron Kim, who could only vote in solidly Democratic states, casting a ballot seemed pointless. But some students didn’t vote for other reasons.

“I was registered back home and I didn’t request (my ballot) in time,” said Jason Kozmic, a mechanical engineering graduate student. “I didn’t make it a big enough priority.”

Some students, such as Weinberg junior Sean Mansfield, had midterms on Tuesday and spent all morning studying. By the time he finished his classes, “everything was done,” he said.

Doppelt said students did not carry the buzz about the presidential race to the ballot box.

“Young people just didn’t translate that conversation into a vote,” Doppelt said. “Not in a way that made a difference. It is disappointing for young people who wanted to make a difference.”

Ohio, this year’s ultimate swing state, has a large student population and the Kerry campaign “put some faith into the prospect of young people pushing Kerry over the top,” Doppelt said.

Both campaigns saw new voters, which were evenly matched vote-for-vote, Doppelt said. But that was not true for students, he added.

“Not enough young people made a difference,” he said.

Reach Seth Freedland at [email protected]

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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College-age voter turnout not so high as predicted