The Millennial Generation -- Americans 30 and younger -- is a growing force in U.S. politics. Political researchers say millennials of voting age now number nearly 50 million, close to a quarter of the electorate. By 2015, they will make up one-third. Conventional wisdom is that young people do not vote, but that trend is changing. VOA's Alex Villarreal has more.

Young voters are flocking to the polls in record numbers this U.S. presidential election year.

The independent research group CIRCLE [the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement], reports that youth turnout rates in many state primaries and caucuses have doubled, tripled, and, in the case of Tennessee, even quadrupled.

Fritz Wenzel is the communications director at the polling firm Zogby International. He says the numbers reflect a new wave of civic-minded youth. "They're excited. They understand that the issues at stake are important to them and their future and they're actually doing something about it."

And the candidates are responding. They are speaking directly to young voters, encouraging them to get involved.

Senator Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Party's front-runner. She said at a recent rally, "I want to thank the young people across New Hampshire who came out."

Candidates are also using social networking Web sites and other youth-oriented media to mobilize support. And they are addressing youth concerns, like the ones voiced during a recent forum sponsored by MTV, MySpace, and the Associated Press.

An audience member asked Republican candidate Ron Paul: "As president of the United States, what role will you make sure the U.S. has in ensuring that the genocide in Darfur does not become the new Rwanda?"

The Student Association for Voter Empowerment, or SAVE, says youth-targeted strategies have had a huge effect on turnout.

"The level of outreach to youth has never been done to the level as this cycle. We have Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul all hiring full-time youth outreach coordinators and when youth are taken seriously as a constituency and reached out to, they deliver in return," says Matthew Segal, who is SAVE's executive director.

The candidate having the most success so far with young voters is Obama. The Illinois Democrat received 57 percent of the 17-to-29 year-old Democrats' vote in the first primary season battle in Iowa. And he has received similar majorities in other primaries and caucuses since, even some where Clinton won the overall vote.

Robert Pastor heads American University's Center for Democracy and Election Management. He says youth are inspired by Obama's message of change. "He reflects a new generation, a new generation's view of the world, a desire on the part of the new generation to change things in a dramatic fashion, in bold fashion and all of those things, I think, are part of what excited young people to participate and vote for him."

Maintaining that participation could be key to either Obama or Clinton winning the presidency. Zogby polls show that Millennial voters favor Democrats over Republicans three to one.