It’s no secret that record numbers of young people have voted in this year’s primary elections. From the Iowa caucuses through Super Tuesday , turnout has doubled, tripled and even quadrupled in some states. And a recent CBS News/ MTV poll found that young people are increasingly becoming more confident that they have a say in determining the next president.
Unfortunately, a closer look at the numbers reveals that not everyone is sharing in the electoral wealth. Almost all of those responsible for the under-30 surge at the polls were college students or folks with at least some college education.
Only 7 percent of eligible voters under the age of 30 without a college education showed up to vote on February 5, according to estimates by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). While 24 states held contests back on Super Tuesday, the study looked at results only from states that had both Republican and Democratic contests on the same day: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah.
While only 29 percent of Americans have a college degree, 45 percent of young people have at least some college experience, according to DEMOS, a public policy organization. And while the fact that 25 percent of people who went to at least one college class voted might not seem like a big turnout, it’s more than three times higher than the measly 7 percent of the young people who have no education past high school.
“It just never really occurred to me to me to register to vote, actually,” said 21-year-old Jennifer Herdman of Derry, Pennsylvania. “None of my friends are actually registered either.”
Herdman is thinking of going to college, but she is more focused on starting her own small business in Derry, a small town in mostly rural Indiana County. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for thinking about politics, even though she says she’s seen tons of campaign ads about Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary on Tuesday .
“I just think the political game is not really something I want to get into,” she said.
The campaigns know that there is a wealth of untapped voters out there in the under-30 set. Senator Hillary Clinton’s and Senator Barack Obama’s campaigns were both out in force trying to register new voters in Pennsylvania up until the very last day possible, March 24.
“Where we could find them, we would try to register them and bring them into the voting process,” said Sean Smith, a spokesperson for Obama’s Pennsylvania campaign. But they may not have done much to increase turnout among non-college-educated youth.
“We tend to do voter-registration drives in high-foot-traffic areas of likely voters,” Smith said, admitting that “likely voters” are usually college-educated people. The result is that such drives could be unintentionally perpetuating the trend.
Ben Wertheim, the manager of a Hollister store in the Galleria Mall in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, said he plans to vote for Hillary Clinton in the primary. He went to Penn State, but many of his co-workers did not go to college.
“I feel like they feel disenfranchised, possibly,” the 24-year-old theorized. “They are not part of the positions being talked about in the campaigns. I think that people who didn’t go to college tend to look at the economy in a different way and think that it will just be politics as usual, no matter how they vote.”
None of these attitudes surprise Chris Bonneau, an assistant political science professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
“There is a lot of literature in political science to show that people with higher levels of education tend to participate in politics more,” he said. “So what we are seeing is just that applied to younger voters. The campaigns try to reach out, but it just seems that people with higher educations feel much more efficacious about the process.”
Damian Gibson, a 31-year-old from West Philadelphia, explained why he doesn’t plan on voting. “Politicians just say what they say to get your vote, and then they go about their business,” he said. “It’s like a guy taking his lady out on a first date. He says what he needs to say to get what he wants.”
Get informed! Head to Choose or Lose for nonstop coverage of the 2008 presidential election, including everything from the latest news on the candidates to on-the-ground multimedia reports from our 51 citizen journalists, MTV and MySpace’s Presidential Dialogues, and much more.