Rocking the Youth Vote: Political Socialization and Culture in the 2004 Elections
When I first began researching youth voting in the United States I was initially interested in the reasons that youth vote and ifyouth were affected by factors unique to the voting year. The political air surrounding the 2004 election was different than the preceding presidential election year. The events of 9/11 and the Iraq war had significantly altered the country and perhaps it influenced voters as well. There was significant media coverage aimed at young voters from celebrities and “get out the vote” campaigns. John Isaacs notes some issues that interested youth voters were, “improving health care, stimulating the country's economy by increasing the supply of well-paying jobs, and helping students deal with the high cost of college.” 1 These issues were compounded by the immediate perceived threat of terrorism and the war in Iraq. The media focused on the polarizing factors such as the war which affected voters. When looking at youth votes it is helpful to consider how many vote and for whom they typically vote for. John Maggs, writer for National Journal, cites a “New York Times/CBS/MTV poll [which] found that 17-to-29-year-olds [voters under the age of 30] are more likely to vote Democratic, to be much more liberal on immigration and gay marriage, and to support national health insurance.”2 But can these young voters be counted on to make it to the polls? According to Maggs, “few from this age group tend to vote. Only 20 million 18-to-29-year-olds cast ballots in 2004, out of a total of 125 million voters — their turnout rate was 43 percent, compared with 63 percent for the rest.”3 The low turnout rate of the youth and their general apathy is even parodied in pop culture. Futurama, the popular adult cartoon show by Simpson’s creator Matt Groening, parodies voting in an episode centered on voting and civic duty. In an episode from the second season, “A Head in the Polls,” Leela and Fry are arguing about the importance of registering to vote and the old, wizened professor enters the room. Leela: One vote can make a difference and, even though it won’t, I’m taking you to get registered anyway. Professor: That’s a capital idea, let’s all go register! Fry: Professor, when did you become so obsessed with voting? Professor: The very instant I became old! Young people watching this show can relate to society’s lack of confidence in youth voting and the perceived unimportance of each vote. However, other sources found a rise in the youth vote in the 2004 election. Thomas Patterson, who is in charge of the Vanishing Voter project, found that “turnout among eligible adults under 30 years old rose by 9 percentage points, pushing their voting rate to over 50 percent. Their turnout rate in battleground states—such as Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania—exceeded 60 percent.”4 This rise in votes can be seen in Figure 1 below. Tobi Walker describes the differences in turnout between the two, “eighteen-totwenty-four-year-olds increased by 11 percentage points, from 36 percent in 2000 to 47 percent in 2004, By comparison, turnout among all ages increased by 4 percentage points, from 60 percent to 64 percent” (Figure 2).5 She points out that the high youth turnout in the 2004 elections changed the way journalists speak of youth turnout; “it was too easy for journalists and political pundits to jump to the conclusion that young slackers had again remained on the sidelines.”6 These journalists and pundits did not predict this surge in the youth vote. This paper attempts to uncover possible reasons for the rise in the youth vote and to discover if methods designed to raise youth voter participation were compatible with the accepted studies on political participation and creation of civic culture. Research on political socialization and a specific youth culture will be examined and then utilized to investigate the 2004 election. Specifically, how does research on political socialization relate to youth vote incentives in the 2004 election?