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Young Voters Divided Over Whether They Will Vote in US Presidential Election


Some analysts are predicting a record turnout of more than 130 million voters in the U.S. presidential contest between Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Barack Obama. Observers say that turnout may reflect a surge in the number of younger voters casting ballots. Both political parties are making a concerted effort to reach voters under the age of 30. VOA talked to young people to see how they feel about voting in the presidential election on November 4. VOA's Chris Simkins has more on the story.

Young voters are turning out in large numbers at campaign rallies for the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and at those for his Republican opponent John McCain.

There's an air of excitement on college and university campuses across the country. At the beginning of the school year at the University of Virginia, Jessie White, 21, was registering students to vote.

"I have seen a lot of enthusiasm in a lot of the first year students coming in for orientation sessions here at school, and they seem really excited," White said.

Joe Figueroa, 20, from New York City sees a different trend.

"I know plenty of people my age and younger who are not interested, who are apathetic, who do not turn out to vote," he said.

In recent decades, young Americans were largely apathetic, voting well below their 17 percent share of the U.S. population. Analysts say young voters were being ignored by the candidates and their political parties. Now the number casting ballots is on the rise. In 2000, 18 million people under the age of 30 voted. Four years later, 20 million did.

McCain and Obama are pushing hard to win the support of more than 50 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 30. They are reaching them on college campuses and on the Internet. A recent poll by the Harvard Institute of Politics indicates Obama is leading McCain among young voters with 55 percent, McCain has 32 percent.

Political analyst Larry Sabato predicts high voter turnout among young people in November.

"They are going to equal their percentage of the population and I think that is remarkable," Sabato said. "They had been well below the percentage of the population at least since that early period when young people got the vote in the early 1970s."

In communities across the country, activists are also working to get out the youth vote.

In Washington D.C., African-American rappers like T.I. are using star power to mobilize young voters who are not in college. They say these potential voters are often overlooked by the candidates and their campaigns.

"For us to sit back and say that America's laws and politics do not represent us, it is a direct reflection of us not voting," T.I. said.

First time voters like 18-year-old Leah Danville and her friends hope their vote will make a difference.

"I am trying to make a difference in my life and the lives of other Americans so voting will be me making my stand and what I believe in," Danville said.

Political analysts say the growing interest of young people in the the 2008 campaign is being driven by issues, like the economy, and pledges for change. Geoff Skelley is a Democrat who supports Obama. He says in the past many of his friends didn't care about politics.

"People from my high school back home are just extremely interested that were never political when I knew them before and I was thinking where did this come from," Skelley said. "I personally think it has a lot to do with Barack Obama, it just seems he has turned out the youth vote."

Ian Gallagher, 22, is a Republican. He says young people seem enthusiastic now but he doubts they will go to the polls.

"While people may really believe that Obama or McCain is the right guy they may not make it to the polls on that day," Gallagher said. "I think it is the classic problem of the 18-25-year-olds. They have an opinion but they have trouble getting to the polls."

Experts say if young voters leave their mark on the 2008 election, this will encourage more young people to participate in the future.