As many readers no doubt know, there are some fairly high profile gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey set to culminate this week, along with many other elections at various levels around the country of course. (For a convenient run-down on these races, try Ron Gunzburger’s Politics1 site, which is also a great general resource for basic information about any race, including links to candidate websites – see the 50 states page.) Given the increases in youth voting seen over recent history and the key role young voters played in last year’s elections, a lot of folks are wondering what kinds of patterns in youth voting we’ll see this week.
The researchers over at the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), who provide superb reports on political participation among young people strike a somewhat optimistic chord in an advisory on the VA and NJ gubernatorial races recently posted to the homepage their website. Looking back at the last three presidential races, for example, the trend is toward growth in youth voting in both states. In New Jersey, the 18-29 year old turnout rate went from 41.4% in 2000, to 51.2% in 2004, and 53.0% in 2008. The comparable rates for Virginia were 47.2% (2000), 43.1% (2004), and 58.7% (2008). As CIRCLE director Peter Levine points out in the same advisory, however, turnout usually declines in off-year elections as compared to presidential election years. Indeed, CIRCLE data show national youth turnout in midterm elections as typically ranging between 25 and 20%. Nevertheless, the trend data available seem to point to a potential for youth turnout to continue to rise as compared to previous election years of the same kind.
Others are more skeptical. For example, in a recent Op-Ed column, E.J. Dionne speculates that large proportions of the young people who became energized by the excitement of last year’s historic election may virtually disappear this week, and in the upcoming midterm elections as well. Quoting Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, this year seems to already be bringing "a dramatically lower level of turnout from Obama surge voters." The column also features quotes from some interviews that Lake has conducted with young Obama surge voters, which are disturbingly telling: "One of them said, 'I'm tired of politics, I need a rest.' A second said, 'When is Obama up again?' The third said, 'I don't like what any of them are doing in Washington, opposing Obama's agenda.' "
As students in American Government courses, and likely members of the youth voting demographic, what do you think will happen in the next couple of election cycles? Do you think that the Obama surge will meet with a notable decline, with younger voters who entered the political process last year getting “tired” of politics and staying home on Election Day? Or, do you agree with those, like the authors of the book Millennial Makeover, who think that today’s younger generation is distinctive in its upbeat, optimistic, and more participatory outlook, and is poised to continue taking a greater role in American politics? Most important, do you plan to vote?