Thursday, November 09, 2006

Youth turnout in election biggest in 20 years

Youth turnout in election biggest in 20 years
By Jason Szep

BOSTON (Reuters) - Young Americans voted in the largest numbers in at least 20 years in congressional elections, energized by the Iraq war and giving a boost to Democrats, pollsters said on Wednesday.

About 24 percent of Americans under the age of 30, or at least 10 million young voters, cast ballots in Tuesday's elections that saw Democrats make big gains in Congress. That was up 4 percentage points from the last mid-term elections in 2002.

"This looks like the highest in 20 years," said Mark Lopez, research director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, which compiled the data based on exit polls. "Unfortunately, we can't say if it's a record because don't have good comparable data before 1986."

Rock the Vote, a youth-and-civics group, said young voters favored Democrats by a 22-point margin, nearly three times the margin Democrats earned among other age groups and dealing a potentially decisive blow to Republicans in tight races.

"The turnout was awesome," said 21-year-old Katryn Fraher, a political science major at the University of New Mexico who helped build a giant map of local polling stations for her school and was among a group of students walking the campus on Tuesday with a blackboard that counted down the time to vote.

But despite the big turnout, it may not be a record.

In the 1982 mid-term election during the Reagan administration, youth turnout reached 27 percent, but that was among voters aged between 18 to 24 instead of under 30 as measured by Wednesday's exit poll estimates.

Republican pollster Ed Goeas said young voters could have swayed a number of tight races on Tuesday, noting that of 28 seats Democrats picked up from Republicans in the 435-member House of Representatives, 22 were won by less than 2 percent of the vote and 18 were won by just 5,000 votes or less.

"The increase in the youth vote did come into play," he said.


As Republicans fought to keep control of Congress, both parties sought to rally young voters who turned out in record numbers in the 2004 presidential election.

At the University of Iowa, some students doubled as "Human Vote Billboards" with messages exhorting students to vote in the battleground state where Democrats won several races.

"It went well," said Brant Miller, 24, at the University of Iowa. "We got a bunch of students to get out there and vote."

Added Kelly Dolan, 24, at the University of Rhode Island: "The only way we can make politicians pay to attention to people our age is if we turn out in record numbers."

A poll by Harvard University's Institute of Politics last week showed that by a three-to-one margin, young Americans said the country was on the "wrong track."

Forty-six percent favored a total troop withdrawal from Iraq within a year, while a third said troops should be withdrawn after the Iraqis take full control.

Future elections could also be at stake. The "Generation Y" of Americans born from 1977 to 1994 -- shaped by the September 11 attacks, the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina -- in nine years will make up a third of the electorate.