Youth vote turnout debated

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Candidates are optimistic for the youth turnout in the midterm election, but nonpartisan experts say 2010 will look very different from 2008.

Story and photos by Rich Schneider, NewsNetNebraska

The youth vote in the 2010 midterm elections may be in sharp contrast with 2008, when energized young voters across the country lined up in record numbers to vote, some Nebraska political experts say.

“I expect it to be much lower than in 2008,” said Michael Wagner, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “It always is when there isn’t a presidential election. Turnout also tends to be higher when elections are close. There aren’t very many competitive races in Nebraska this year.”

Lancaster County Election Commissioner David Shively said there aren’t many hot button issues or competitive races to draw voters to the polls.

“In the May primaries, this county had higher turnout than there was statewide because of the arena bonds bill,” he said. “Something like that just isn’t on this ballot.”

But the pessimistic predictions haven’t deterred candidates or political parties from efforts to persuade young people to vote in the midterm.

While Rebekah Davis, the Democrat challenger for Nebraska’s 3rd Congressional District, agreed that the numbers are bound to be lower without a presidential election, she continues to reach out to young people. Davis, who is running in a district that includes 69 Nebraska counties, has visited the campuses of Chardon State College, the University of Nebraska at Kearney and Hastings College.

“Any chance I’ve gotten, I’ve tried to connect with the students,” she said. “If we can get young people committed to voting early, they are much more likely to stay active.”

Another Democratic candidate isn’t fazed by the dismal forecasts and believes young voters may surprise people in 2010.

“I think it’s gonna be really awesome. I think they are going to come out again,” said Ivy Harper, who is running for the 1st District seat. “They are smart, they are passionate, and they understand what’s at stake.”

Some students at UNL are looking forward to the election, while others don’t plan to vote.

“Voting is how you get your voice out there,” said Caitlyn Eacker, a UNL freshman who will vote for the first time.

Senior Tom King said voting is a civic duty. In order to complain about government you have to vote first.
He said he resents that the country has a population that is highly critical of how things are run in Washington, but only 34 or 35 percent turn out for a midterm election.

Cassie Olson, a junior at UNL, was one of many who got caught up in the fervor of 2008 who won’t be voting this time around.

“Last time I had to vote in the Union and it took way too long. I was up until five in the morning finishing homework.”

Junior Samantha Asher is another who voted in 2008 but she said she will not vote in November.

“I don’t have enough information to vote,” she said. “I’m too uninformed.”

For people like Joey Adler, president of the UNL Young Democrats, changing the minds of students who don’t intend to vote is a big priority.

“We’re doing everything in our power,” he said. “A lot of kids don’t even know there is an election right now. We are trying to make sure they know that there is.”

Missy Wigley, communications director for the Nebraska Democratic Party, said she thinks young voters are enthused about this election. Some are even looking ahead to 2012 with the announcement of a second Nebraska Democratic caucus.

Young Democrats have put up several posters and have started on their “get out the vote” campaign. So far this year, they have had a grill and chill and have invited speakers to campus. They will be distributing information about the candidates the week before the election.

The Nebraska Democratic Party also has also been calling 2008 first-time voters between the ages of 18-24 to encourage them to return to the polls in 2010.

Meanwhile, the Republicans also are actively recruiting young voters.

Taylor Gage, the outreach coordinator at the Nebraska Republican Party, said he’s optimistic about the youth vote, even though it often is difficult to predict.

“We have record numbers involved here in the ‘get out the vote’ campaign. We also have a lot of people volunteering, in general we see a lot of interest,” he said.

In 2008 young people were highly engaged on the Democratic side, Gage said, but in 2010, he is seeing more young Republicans becoming involved. He said young people are noticing what is going on in D.C.

Taylor Gage at a Nebraska Republicans meeting.

The Nebraska Republican Party works with Young Republican organizations on 10 different college campuses across Nebraska. They organize the “get out the vote” campaigns and voter registration drives, and they have students who go door to door or make phone calls every day to prospective voters.

“The youth is the life of the party,” Gage said.

Despite the efforts of the parties and the optimism of the candidates, Wagner stands by his prediction. He said it is unlikely that young people, who historically vote Democrat, will have the impact they had in 2008.

“Unless it’s the impact of them really not showing up, and the Democrats do worse.”

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