MTV and politics don’t mix. At the very least, those divergent interests probably occupy very different segments of your day. So maybe you’ve noticed with curiosity the way November’s election, via MTV candidate appearances and Internet youth voter campaigns, has inched its way into your entertainment world.
Why is that youth, that is the demographic between 18 and 29, are strategic political targets this fall? It’s traditionally a pretty pathetic statistical representation of our democracy that voting among 18 to 20-year-olds has declined steadily since its implementation in 1971. And it’s always turned out all right in the past, so what’s with all the concentrated interest this year?
Despite the fact that it was a pretty even split in the 2000 election, both sides seem to agree that the youth vote will be pivotal to the outcome of this one, especially in swing states where the decision came down to mere thousands of votes four years ago. Both candidates have appeared on MTV, and USAToday notes that they have conspicuously included their 20-something daughters in their campaigns. Both seem to see their fate lying in the hands of our generation.
It’s not just the candidates themselves focusing on this age group. Odds are you’ve noticed the myriad organizations blanketing Temple’s campus to forcibly register you to vote.
William A. Galston, director of the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, told Pew Research, “While many factors influence voter turnout, making it easier to register and vote clearly makes a big difference.” Rock the Vote and Declare Yourself are among the non-partisan organizations making it easy by allowing online registration. Declare Yourself has registered 505,000 new voters, RTV cites 789,905 and the New Voter Project claims 242,697 registrants as of Sept. 19.
They’ve even got celebrities in on the deal now. Lil’ Kim registers online on RTV’s homepage, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey MacGuire were among many celebrity hosts of a DY event in March, and the scheduled bus tours are reminiscent of the 1960s spirit that brought about the youth vote in the first place.
It’s not a bad idea, and pollsters are optimistic about the response even though they recognize a huge difference between bandwagon registration and actual turnout on Nov. 2.
But they’re tackling that obstacle, too. Look for a candidate debate next month sponsored by New Voters Project wherein the questions are submitted and chosen by the target audience, 18 to 29-year-olds. This is the first election that has concentrated efforts on the generation alternately identified by such witty nomenclature as “Y” and “Dot-Com,” which seems to address the one reservation I have about all the youth-hype.
While our age group has been largely neglected, it’s worth considering a reason that the 26th amendment was so long in coming. We’ve been categorized as flighty and impetuous. We’re conditioned to believe that wisdom accompanies age. It’s true that the 18 – 29 age demographic is capable of making terribly ignorant choices. But the same is true of every voting age group. Whether the voter is 25 or 85, if they are generally uninformed, then their vote is a detriment to educated decision-making.
The youth of 1971 demonstrated pretty effectively that they were as capable as older generations, and in light of the draft, certainly as entitled to have substantial input.
In 2004, young voters have just as vested an interest in the outcome of this presidential election as older voters (if not more), and nobody’s debating their right to participate. But the concerns about uninformed voting, without regard to age, are still legitimate with a race as close as it looks like this one will be.
So the political world has suddenly decided to cast an eye in our direction. Someone out there thinks we actually can balance our intake of MTV and CNN. Here’s hoping that Generation Y will rise to the occasion and reaffirm the capacity of young people to make grown-up decisions.
Elizabeth Vaughn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.