Many young voters not picking political parties

Posted by in Commentary

By KEVIN HAAS

GateHouse News Service Via The State Journal-Register

Although a record number of young people is expected to vote in the upcoming election, they’re not necessarily choosing sides.

“There are so many things wrong with the Republicans and Democrats that, picking a party, I couldn’t even fathom picking a party,? said Chad Stenberg, a 24-year-old teacher from Rockford.

That was the overwhelming message heard during a two-day tour last week of three Illinois cities — Rockford, DeKalb and Normal — to find out what’s important to young voters and why.

What else do young voters have in common? No surprise, they use the Web for political information. They know and care little about local races. And they care about the big issues.

The party problem

According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, the youth voting trend appears to be on the way up after a decline dating back to 1972.

More than 6.5 million Americans under the age of 30 participated in the 2008 primaries and caucuses — a 17 percent turnout compared to 9 percent in 2000.

And in 2004, presidential-race turnout surged 11 percentage points.

In many cases, young voters are frustrated with the status quo and happy to pick a candidate from the main parties, like Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain.

Others have lined up other options.

Jessie Grahn, 27, a student at Rockford College, is leaning toward Obama or Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney.

“When the two parties are pretty much the same party, it’s a bad thing,? Grahn said. “You’re basically saying, ‘I want a green apple or a red apple instead of an apple or an orange.’ If you don’t want apples, you’re kind of stuck.?

Experts say younger voters tend to lean to the left, and Stefan Michalow, an 18-year-old from Bourbonnais attending Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, attests to that.

“Sometimes I scare my parents with my political beliefs,? he said. “I’m too left-wing, they say.?

Michalow, though undecided, sees classmates flocking toward Obama.

“I don’t want to just hop on the bandwagon and say let’s vote for Obama, just because everyone else is voting for him.?

Adam Johnson, 20, of Rockton is a Republican and an intern in state Rep. Dave Winters office. He said McCain’s foreign policy makes him the best choice for president.

“When you look at terrorist attacks and the history of them, they go in spans,? Johnson said. “We may be due for another one, and I think John McCain is the one to handle that most efficiently and effectively.?

 

War and peace

Andrew Maynard and Caitlin Boyer, a pair of 19-year-old Rock Valley College students in Rockford, aren’t siding with Obama, who has made “change? his slogan, or McCain.

Maynard, of Loves Park, who wore an American-flag-patterned peace sign on his shirt, said ending the war in Iraq is the election’s biggest issue. Boyer, who has attended anti-war rallies in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, agrees.

Fed up with both Democrats and Republicans, Maynard says he’ll likely vote for the Green Party.

Anastasia Bein, 21, a member of the Army ROTC and a student at Illinois State University, said she’s not sure she completely agrees with either Obama or McCain’s views with the military.

“McCain has made some very valid points because with his experience … he understands what the military is going to be going through,? Bein said. “At the same time, he grew up in a war climate and an environment that is completely unlike what we’re dealing with today, and that can limit his perspective.?

 

Surfing the Web

On the social networking site Facebook, popular among college students, Obama has more than 2.1 million supporters. McCain has a little more than 574,200.

The figures mean little in determining the outcome of an election, since some may not be 18 or registered to vote, but it does show how many people turn to the Web for political information.

Grahn said she uses sites like votesmart.org and moveon.org to stay informed.

Jeffrey Cleveland, 20, a Texas native living in Normal, said he’ll look up debates on YouTube.

Isaac Ellis of Rockford said he’ll use the Web to make sure his candidate follows through on campaign promises.

“I’m a friend with Barack Obama on Facebook. If things don’t go the way they’re supposed to go, I’ll type him a letter real quick and let him know, ‘You said you were going to do this,’ ? Ellis said.

The Web has its downfalls, too, Stenberg said.

“I think there are a lot of Web sites out there that spread the lies,? he said. “I actually met someone a couple of days ago that still thinks Obama’s a Muslim.?

 

Does it matter?

Although young voters are expected to increase their profile in November, their impact is still likely to make little difference in Illinois, where Obama will cruise to victory “even if every 18- to 25-year-old stayed at home on Election Day,? said Brian Gaines, professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In 2004, only 47 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds showed up at the polls, compared with 72 percent of people 55 and older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Voter apathy still exists, said Tim Reed, an 18-year-old from Stillman Valley who feels his vote wouldn’t make a difference and therefore won’t cast one.

“Maybe if I was a little more mature, I’d be more into it. Or if there was someone I was really interested in voting for, I’d be more into it, but right now I’m pretty indecisive,? Reed said.

When Jenessa Hamilton reads the Daily Vidette, Illinois State University’s student newspaper, she sees a lot of indifference.

The 21-year-old from Pekin is a registered Democrat but supporting McCain because she likes his experience and foreign policy. She says most people her age aren’t informed.

“I don’t even think I know that much … to say that I have the best opinion,? Hamilton said.

But she believes in exercising her right to vote. “Since we’re given the opportunity, we should take advantage of it.?