This article is reprinted from Campus Progress.org, the youth-oriented magazine of the Center for American Progress.
Tuesday, November 7, 2006, was a day of victory for youth engagement in American democracy. In a year of increased overall turnout, it was young people who really took the lead. According to The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), an estimated 10 million young Americans (ages 29 and under) came out to vote yesterday—the largest number ever and an increase of 2 million since the midterm election in 2002. Estimated youth turnout jumped from 20 percent in 2002 to 24 percent in 2006. Youth turnout was the highest in at least twenty years, and, when all the provisional or absentee ballots are counted, it may be the highest of all time.
Yesterday’s record turnout proves that young people are ready for change. They are fed up with stagnant wages at home, a sustained occupation in Iraq, and a government that puts special interests ahead of their interests.
The 2006 midterm elections saw a major shift in the way young people are organizing. In the past, conservatives have out-hustled progressives. They’ve raised more money, registered more voters, and gotten more people to the polls, and progressive youth turnout has always reflected this. This year, however, 60 percent of young people voted for progressive candidates. The big takeaway for 2006: if you ask young people to vote, they will. According to Young Voter Strategies and CIRCLE, live phone calls can increase young voter turnout by 3–5 percentage points, canvassing by 8–10 percentage points, and contact on and before election day by 13 percentage points. Building on the incredible momentum of the 2004 elections, voter registration efforts have greatly increased the pool of young voters. Young Voter Strategies alone registered 450,000 voters aged 18–29 in the past few months.
Two recent polls, one by Harvard University and the other by Young Voter Strategies, confirm that the issues driving young people to the polls are the war in Iraq, increasing costs of college and student loans, and crippling levels of student debt. Sixty-eight percent of young people disapprove of the path the president has taken this country down, and by a 3 to 1 margin they say the country is headed in the wrong direction. This is a marked increase since the last midterms. In fact, 46 percent of young people felt the country was on the right track in 2002, compared with a mere 18 percent in 2006. They have lost faith in nearly all government institutions, with the exception of the military. They trust the troops, but not the incompetent and dishonest politicians who have sent them to die in Iraq. In fact, less than a third of young people trust the president, Congress, and the federal government to do the right thing all or most of the time.
Young voters’ frustration is matched only by their determination for change. Yesterday, they braved inclement weather and long lines at polling places with malfunctioning machines to demand a new direction for their country. The record breaking turnout proves that young people are no longer a group that politicians can afford to ignore.