New Voters Project Briefing: Youth Voting in 2004

  • October 08, 2004

Record high voter registration among the young and significant levels of interest in the presidential race are signaling a big turnout for young voters this fall. But who they will vote for is still up for grabs. The New Voters Project and others in the non-partisan youth vote community are doing the hard work of getting young people registered to register and to vote on November 2nd. Now it's up to the candidates to pay attention and work hard for the votes of this crucial swing demographic.

Polls show young people are more likely to vote this year:

  • According to the Pew Research Center poll released September 30th, 58 percent of young Americans surveyed said that they were registered to vote, the highest percentage since 1992.   
  • An MTV/CIRCLE poll released September 21st found that 83 percent of young voters are paying attention to the election and 80 percent said the definitely planned on voting on November 2nd.   
  • These findings are consistent with the Pew poll that found that an unprecedented 85 percent of those young Americans polled said they were planning on voting in November – significantly more than the 67 percent of those polled in September 2000.

Young people are still making up their minds:

  • According to the Pew Research Center poll, young voters are more open minded than their older counterparts – only 70 percent said they had definitely decided on which candidate they are planning on voting for in November, compared to 78 percent of voters over 65.   
  • 24 percent of voters aged 18-29 said that they might change their minds before November – compared to only 8 percent of those over 65.   
  • Young voters are looking for substance. According to the Pew Research Center poll, a remarkable 42 percent of young voters said that the Presidential debates will help them decide on who to vote for, while only 22 percent of those over 65 said the debates mattered to their decision making.   
  • The MTV/CIRCLE Poll released on September 21st gave Senator Kerry a 6 percent lead among young voters – just two weeks later, the Pew Research Center poll gave President Bush a 6 percent lead among the same demographic.

Young people are focused on the issues:

  • The economy and availability of well paying jobs proved to be first among many serious issues in the minds of young voters this year , according to the MTV/CIRCLE poll, followed by the war in Iraq, and the increasing cost of higher education.   
  • According to CNN, as of September 4th, at least half of the casualties suffered in Iraq were 18-24, and over 75 percent were under 30.   
  • Research conducted by the non-partisan think tank 18to35 shows that the unemployment rate of 18-24 year olds is twice that of older Americans.   
  • According to Nellie Mae, the average undergraduate student debt was in 1997 $11,400. By 2002, the average debt had risen to $18,900 – an increase of 66 percent.

Unprecedented and sophisticated resources are being devoted to mobilizing young voters:

  • The six largest non-partisan youth vote efforts alone – the New Voters Project, Rock the Vote, Declare Yourself, WWE Smackdown Your Vote!, Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and MTV's Choose or Lose  –  have devoted nearly $40 million dollars to a multi-faceted campaign to mobilize young voters.   
  • The New Voters Project has partnered with Secretaries of States, Colleges and Universities, local businesses, and community organizations to target young people where they go to work and school, and to make it as easy as possible for them to register and go to the polls on election day.   
  • The New Voters Project has been using rigorously tested strategies of grassroots peer-to-peer mobilization to directly engage young voters. The New Voters Project alone will make over 500,000 direct, face to face contacts in the last weeks prior to Election Day.

Unparalleled efforts are yielding measurable results:

  • Almost two million people have downloaded voter registration forms from the Rock the Vote and Declare Yourself websites alone.   
  • The New Voters Project has directly registered more than 300,000 18-24 young voters in just six states – NM, NV, OR, IA, WI, and CO.   
  • In Wisconsin alone, the New Voters Project has registered over 130,000 young voters – more than 20 percent of the entire population of 18-24 year olds in the state.   
  • The New Voters Project has registered over 30,000 new voters in Iowa and Oregon, and over 25,000 in New Mexico – all states that had margins of victory less than 6,000 votes in 2000.   
  • Now that the registration deadlines have lapsed, the New Voters Project is shifting gears and drawing on a voter file with 1.2 million names in the six project states to give new voters the kind of peer-to-peer contact proven to be an effective way of mobilizing young voters.

Young people are still facing barriers to voting:

  • Some local elections officials tell students that they risk losing their financial aid, health insurance, or threaten their parents' tax status if they register to vote in the community where they attend college. Until recently, the website for the Sec. State of New Hampshire ran this kind of misinformation in its website.   
  • In Tempe Arizona, a local news affiliate ran a segment featuring a local elections official threatening ASU students with prosecution for felony voter fraud if they registered on campus.   
  • The New Mexico Supreme Court recently overturned a lower court decision and issued a bipartisan 4-1 ruling against a small group of activists seeking to impose harsher ID requirements on first time voters, such as students.

Public Comments From Secretaries of State:

State Election Officials Comment on Increase in Registered Young Voters

"We've seen a significant increase in the number of young people registering to vote for this election, and we fully expect turnout to increase as a result."

Rebecca Vigil-Giron
New Mexico Secretary of State
President, National Association of Secretaries of State

"Nevada has seen a significant increase in efforts to register young voters, and we believe these efforts are changing the profile of the Nevada electorate. It is our assumption that this is going to make a significant difference compared to past years in the number of young people casting their votes in Nevada on November 2nd."

Steve George
Public Information Officer
Nevada Secretary of State's office

"There is so much more activity around young people this year. If the amount of attention being paid to young people is any indication, then they will be turning out in record numbers."

Anne Martens
Press Secretary
Oregon Secretary of State's Office

"Every evidence in the field leads us to believe that not only are more young people getting registered, but that more young people will be going to the polls on November 2nd than ever before."

Phyllis Peters
Communications Director
Iowa Secretary of State's Office

". . .Unprecedented numbers of youth voter participation programs have made a push in Colorado not only get young people registered but to educate them on the issues and get them to the polls and it seems likely that this activity will result in greater turnout in November."

Lisa Doran
Press Secretary
Colorado Secretary of State's Office

"Wisconsin's role in this fall's elections is seen as pivotal. I expect that the efforts to register and mobilize young voters will be felt at the polls this fall."