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Studies Show Fewer Young Americans Vote - 2002-10-24

Several recent studies show that fewer and fewer young Americans take advantage of their right to vote. Now, several organizations are trying to reverse the downward trend and capture what is the largest unclaimed voting block in the United States.

Adam Anthony, project director for the Campaign for Youth Voters, says the number of young Americans who vote is dropping.

"A general summation of the problem with youth voting in this country is that in every presidential election year since 1972, since 18-year-olds were given the right to vote, voting turnout has declined among that age group," he said.

The group estimates there are about 30 million people between the ages of 18 to 30 in the United States who do not vote.

In order to attract more young Americans to the polls, the group has distributed an information package to 8,000 state and federal candidates to offer suggestions on how to talk to young voters.

A joint study by The Washington Post, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University found that in 1974, about 30 percent of all 25-year-olds voted. The study estimates that in next month's elections, only 23 percent are expected to vote and that if the trend continues, only about 19 percent will vote in 2022.

Kerry Richardson, 28, the manager of a semi-conductor company in Austin, Texas, says he will not vote in the upcoming for the state governor because of a simple lack of interest. "Both their campaigns have strictly been bashing each other, so I have no idea what either one of them even stands for," he said.

Another 25-year-old, who asked that her name not be used, agreed that she also has no interest in the candidates running in her hometown - Atlanta, Georgia. She says she feels candidates are not doing a good job speaking to younger voters.

"I have not seen anything really targeted at young people, necessarily, or any events that would bring in any more young people," she says. "Maybe they are just not reaching me, but I have not seen any of that really going on."

One group that has been working for the last 12 years to increase youth participation in U.S. elections is "Rock the Vote," a Los Angeles-based organization that tries to bring the message to potential young voters.

"We look for where the young people are, at concerts, at clubs, at coffee houses, at campuses," says the group's program director, Lynne Lyman. "Wherever we think young people might gather, we try to be there with a team of people."

Ms. Lyman says the group currently has 43 teams in 35 different U.S. states, all working to woo young people to the ballot box. "This year, we've registered nearly 100,000 young people - new voters," she says.

One way to reach young adults is to go to rock and roll concerts, which is exactly what Rock the Vote has done. Ms. Lyman says the group sent voter registration teams to about 20 concert tours this year, for recording artists like Alicia Keys, Moby, Public Enemy and Lenny Kravitz.

British rocker Billy Bragg said he and others around the world who oppose American leaders like President Bush, have no way to vote in U.S. elections. At a recent get-out-the-vote rally in the Washington lobby of the main U.S. labor organization, the AFL-CIO, he urged the 400 people gathered there to take advantage of their opportunity to directly influence who becomes leader of the world's foremost power.

"If only we had a vote in your elections so our voices could be heard," he said. "We're kind of stuck with the guy. We take very strong umbrage (offense) that you guys can't be bothered to go out and vote. It really annoys us."

Billy Bragg's sidekick, Britannia the cheerleader, urged the audience to go to the polls by cheering, "Ready? Okay. Give me a 'V.' Give me an 'O.' Give me a 'T.' Give me an 'E.' What's it spell? Vote! Go vote!"

The majority of the people who attended the rally were in their twenties and thirties. Organizers of the (AFL-CIO) union sponsored event say they did not specifically target young people, but that pop culture figures always attract what they described as the "youth element."