Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

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Youth in the Booth

On Election Day, the country held it’s collective breath as the numbers rolled in. No one knew exactly how it would turn out, but early exit polls had numbers skewing towards Kerry. Then as the evening progressed it became more and more apparent that those numbers were incorrect as George W. Bush took Florida and Ohio and won the election to become the 44th President of the United States. Early reports indicated that democrats were disappointed in the youth turnout, an important demographic they were apparently relying on to win the election. News broke that only one in ten youth had voted and it looked more and more like 2004 was going to be another disappointed show for young Americans at the polls. However, it appears that these early numbers were simply incorrect.

“It’s pretty simple actually,� says Mark Lopez, research director at The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE). “Some initial press reports had reported that one in ten young people had voted, when in fact initial exit polls said ten percent of all voters were 18-to-24. The numbers were misinterpreted.� In fact, 10.5 million voters under the age of 25 voted this year, according to CIRCLE. This is a 42.3 percent turnout rate, up from 36.5 percent four years ago. What is more, when you look at the numbers for all young people under 30, those rates go up even more. The 21 million 18- to 29-year-olds who voted for the 44th president represents 51.6 percent. That number is up from 42.3 percent just four years ago.

Those 21 million Americans under-30 that voted in the election skewed to the left far more than the general population with 54 percent preferring Senator Kerry over President Bush. While they may have differed in their party affiliations, the most important issue for them was just the same as the general population, with “moral values� topping the list for 22 percent. However, their values clearly differ from the general voting population. When asked whether they favor gay marriage 41 percent said yes versus 25 percent of all voters.

Not only did 18- to 29-year-olds differ in the political leanings from the general population, but also from their older siblings in Generation X. For example, under-30 voters were 12 percentage points more likely to identify themselves as liberal as those between 30 and 39. “Why do we actually see this?� asks Lopez. “It might be the time you’re politically socialized. For 30- to 39-year-olds, some of their first political activities might have revolved around Ronald Reagan and some of the issues that were prevalent in the 1980s. If your formative years were when there was a Republican administration in power that was a well-liked and popular, you’re more than likely going to lean that way later in life. What we think is happening to young people today, the 18-29 year olds, is that they grew up during the Clinton years which is an entirely different time and they may be reflecting that more than their adult counterparts.�

No matter what their political affiliation may be, it’s an important to see young people getting out to vote. It is they who will lead this country in the years to come and early involvement in politics is a positive step.

November 20, 2004