(CNSNews.com) - The votes of 30 million young people are "up for grabs," according to a group that provides "toolkits" to help candidates mobilize this untapped constituency of young voters.
"Participation in democracy should be something that is encouraged and fostered as early as possible so that it becomes normal at an older age," said a spokesman for Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.). Press Secretary Jonathan Beeton called Baldwin "living proof" that "you can win with young voters.".
Baldwin was among the lawmakers and public policy officials attending a get-out-the-vote effort sponsored by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Democracy and Citizenship. That effort - called the Campaign for Young Voters (CVY) - is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
At Thursday's press briefing, CYV released "30 Million Missing Voters: A Candidate Toolkit."
"Even in the 2000 presidential elections, 30 million American citizens age 30 and under did not vote," claims CYV. "If recent trends hold, the numbers will be even worse this November.
"This is not just a statistic," the statement continued. "It's a shame."
Connecting with Young People
After "extensive field research," CYV developed a 2002 CD-Rom toolkit, which it recently mailed to every state and federal political candidate in the U.S. The toolkit is also available on CYV's website.
Patrick Botterman is the campaign manager for Illinois congressional candidate Melissa Bean, who already looked at the CD-Rom and plans to take CYV's advice. According to Botterman, the "common-sense language" in the toolkit can be helpful to many candidates in talking to young people.
"I've worked for a number of candidates who think that when they walk into a high school they need to sympathize with the Backstreet Boys or Marilyn Manson or whatever," he said, calling the tactic "condescending."
"[If] you're not going to be insincere to a senior citizen who's got a long track record of voting, then you shouldn't be insincere to someone who's just starting out," Botterman reasoned.
The toolkit offers advice and explores three aspects of mobilizing young voters: finding them, reaching out to them, and getting them to turn out on election day.
According to CYV, young people are generally interested in the same issues that older voters are. "What is important," the toolkit states, "is the way you approach young voters - how and where you meet with them; the way you present yourself; how well you listen to them."
Beeton echoes the advice, emphasizing the effectiveness of personal meetings between a candidate and a group of youths, especially at high schools, social organization meetings, and other youth functions.
"For a lot of these [young] people, this will be the first time they've met a congressperson face to face," he said. "They've now made a connection, they know who this person is, and they understand that this person actually does care about them and the issues that they're concerned about."
"That's the best thing, one-on-one outreach," Beeton added.
Young, Cynical, and Not Voting
Historically, younger people have never voted in big numbers, but the reasons for this seem to be a matter of opinion.
Nancy George is the national coordinator for voter education at AARP, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization designed for people over the age of 50 - a constituency traditionally known for its high voter turnout.
"Generally what we have found is that older voters vote because they have vested interest in the issues," George said. "I think that once people begin to have families and property, they tend to vote more regularly because they see that there's a connection between who they vote for and what happens in the enactment of laws."
Botterman said he thinks political apathy is a product of the X and Y generations.
"I think it's legitimate cynicism," he said. "Unfortunately, it's not limited to politics; it's now filtered into the music they listen to, whether it's R. Kelly or somebody else.
"There's a lot to be cynical over," Botterman added, noting that even business majors have lost role models in corporate leaders such as WorldCom and Enron. He says anything that young people try to hold in esteem have "been shaved away, whether it's religion, politics, music, [or] business."
"The varnish has been taken off reality, and it's pretty rough," Botterman said.
But George points out that it's not just today's young people not voting, because the people who are now AARP members also had a low rate of voting when they were young.
"It has nothing to do with that particular cohort," she argued. "It just has to do with [the fact that] people, as they get older ... tend to be more invested in what happens as far as elections and what happens as far as laws being passed."
Whether the problem is attributed to cynicism, age, or both, Thomas Jardin remains positive about reaching out to youths after he implemented the 2001 version of a toolkit by the Young Voter Initiative (what is now CYV) in his campaign for New Jersey legislature.
"Many young voters may very well have an acquired cynicism about politics and politicians," Jardin stated. "But I believe such cynicism can be overcome by a candidate who talks to them and not at them, listens to what they have to say, is 'real' enough to admit that he or she does not have all the answers, takes young voters and their concerns seriously."
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