They could be drafted at 18, 19 and
20 and deployed to Vietnam but they
were too young to vote. And so a movement
took form. “Old enough to fight,
old enough to vote” was the slogan heard
across the nation as pressure grew in the
late 1960s to lower the legal voting age
from 21 to 18. The efforts proved successful.
In 1971, the 26th Amendment to the
U.S. Constitution was ratified, granting
voting rights to millions of young citizens.
And yet, after gaining that right, youth
participation steadily declined. In presidential
election years between 1972 and 2000,
for example, the turnout rate of young
voters dropped 16 percent. And then came
2004, when, galvanized by a fiercely fought
election between George Bush and John
Kerry, many youth were drawn to the polls.
More than 20 million 18-to-29-year-olds
voted in the election, a significant increase
from the 16.2 million who voted in 2000.
Was this a temporary spike or the
beginning of a growing political role for
the nation’s youth? If this year’s primary
season was any indication, young citizens
are determined to make their voices heard
like never before. In New Hampshire, for
example, the youth vote was twice as large
as in 2004. In Iowa it was tripled. Other
states reported similar results.
FDU Magazine asked two leading experts
on youths in politics to discuss the
growing enthusiasm of young citizens and
the potential impact of the youth vote in
the upcoming election.
FDU Magazine: This issue we have with us
FDU faculty members Daniel Cassino and
Krista Jenkins. Let us introduce them.
After receiving his doctorate in political science
from Stony Brook University in New
York, Dan Cassino was a staff researcher
at Princeton University before coming to
FDU. He is an assistant professor of political
science at the College at Florham and the director
of outside research for PublicMind™,
FDU’s polling institute. His research focuses
on political psychology, with an emphasis
on how people perceive and evaluate political
figures and parties. His forthcoming
book, co-authored with his wife, Yasemin
Besen-Cassino, is titled Consuming Politics:
Jon Stewart, Symbolic Politics and the
Youth Vote in America (Associated University
Presses). The book examines why young
people do not get involved in politics and
concludes that they see politics as no different
than other products and services that are
marketed to them.
Krista Jenkins is an assistant professor
of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson’s
College at Florham and a survey analyst for
PublicMind. She earned her PhD at Rutgers
University, where she began work on a project
that ultimately resulted in a co-authored
book that examines generations and politics,
titled A New Engagement? Political
Participation, Civic Life, and the Changing
American Citizen (Oxford University
Press, 2006). The book challenges the idea
that today’s youth are plagued by a severe
case of political apathy. In addition to her
research on youth and politics, Jenkins has
studied gender and politics and is working
on a book about mothers and daughters
and their attitudes toward feminism and the
Let us start by asking whom are we specifically
talking about when we refer to the
youth vote? What distinctions exist among
this demographic group?
Daniel Cassino: I’m specifically talking
about 18-to-29-year-olds, and I would
say that the main thing tying this group
together is a way of perceiving political figures
and parties as being no different than
consumer products and brands. That isn’t
to say that youth don’t have political views
and affiliations, but that the processes and
views underlying those views are very different
from older cohorts.
Krista Jenkins: Generally, we’re speaking
about those between the ages of 18 and 29,
although sometimes people focus on the 18-
to-24 group. But one needs to keep in mind
that even though the tendency is to describe
this cohort as if it is a monolith, the reality
is it’s a pretty diverse group.
Are today’s youth different from older generations
politically? If so, how and why?
KJ: Indeed they are different. They’re
more independent and Democratic in
their affiliation and tend to differ slightly
from older cohorts on their attitudes
toward certain social issues, such as gay
rights and immigration. One likely reason
for these differences has to do with
how they’ve been socialized. They’re
the most racially and ethnically diverse
generation, and gays and lesbians have
received far more acceptance today
than when past generations were being
DC: In some ways, today’s young people are
very similar to those in previous cohorts.
For instance, partisanship among today’s
young people is highly malleable, just as it’s
been for the almost 50 years that political
scientists have been studying partisanship.
Today’s young Democrats may be tomorrow’s
Republicans, and vice-versa.
Another thing we’re seeing is a large
number of young people opting out of
partisanship entirely, not being Democrats
or Republicans. Now, that’s happened
in the past, but it’s happening for different
reasons now. For instance, in the late
1960s, so many young people were refusing
to identify themselves as Republicans
or Democrats that Gallup added a new
category, “radical,” to categorize young
people. So, they were opting out of normal
partisan politics, but not because they
didn’t appreciate or understand it: rather,
because they were dealing with an entirely
new set of issues and values. Moreover,
there wasn’t much difference in political
knowledge between younger and older
cohorts then — nothing like the gaps in
political knowledge or involvement that
we see now.
My co-author and I argue that a lot of
this comes from the way in which politics
has been treated by the politicians themselves.
Campaign consultants have been
important to presidential politics since the
1840s, but it wasn’t until the late 1960s
that they began to dominate the process.
Politicians started selling themselves, their
policies, their values, as if they were soap,
and people who have grown up in that system,
take them at their word.
What accounts for the sizable increase in
youth participation in the 2008 primaries and
caucuses? Is the surge coming from college
campuses? What elements of the current
youth interest are most striking to you?
KJ: Actually, the increase in youth participation
is part of a larger trend that’s been
going on for the past few elections. We’ve
seen more young people turn out in the recent
presidential elections, perhaps because
of national issues that can potentially
affect their demographic — such as the
ongoing war in Iraq — as well as because
of the apparent realization by some candidates
that mobilizing the youth vote can
indeed pay off.