Students may have been buying the Urban Outfitters T-shirt proclaiming “Voting is For Old People” earlier this month, but a Harvard survey predicts that come November, an increasing number of young people will be headed to the polls.
Election interest among young adults is up sharply from 2000, according to a poll released last week by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government (KSG).
Compared to the week of Super Tuesday in 2000, 2004 saw hikes in the percentages of people between the ages of 18 and 30 who had spoken about the election, thought about the election and read, heard or seen an election-related news story in the past day.
And this substantially larger youth participation in the 2004 presidential race, compared with the 2000 race, is almost a sure indicator of higher voting numbers come November, said Thomas E. Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at KSG.
Patterson also said he was surprised by the “significant jump in interest of young adults” compared to relatively static numbers for those older than 30.
The recent upsurge is likely related to the belief that the upcoming election has particularly high stakes for the country, according to the study, which surveyed 1,000 people.
During the Super Tuesday contests, almost three in every five young adults surveyed felt the election would have “a great deal” or “quite a bit” of impact on the future of the country, the survey revealed.
Patterson said that the specific issues of 2004—a war and a struggling economy—distinguish this election from the last contest.
This upsurge in involvement may signal a reverse of a decline in youth voting participation. While the 1972 turnout rate for young adults in the general election was nearly 50 percent, in 2000, it was barely 30 percent.
Institute of Politics (IOP) Director Daniel R. Glickman said the survey’s results reinforce what he has been seeing for the last year and a half.
“There is an upkick in young voters,” he said.
These survey results come just weeks after Urban Outfitters discontinued a “Voting is for Old People” T-shirt that drew criticism from organizations across the country, including the IOP, which claimed that the shirt promotes political apathy among young people.
“‘Hooray, it’s happening. Young people are influencing the political system,’” Glickman quipped as a suggestion for a new Urban Outfitters tee.
Jonathan S. Chavez ’05, who directs a semiannual survey at the IOP, agreed that these national numbers correlate with a surge in political excitement at Harvard.
“It is exactly the sort of sense we have been getting...a sense of excitement about the 2004 election. The millennial generation does care about politics and the choice of who is going to be president does matter to us,” Chavez said.
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