Non-College Kids Outsiders to Rising 'Youth Vote' Since the 2000 elections, the number of young Americans going to the polls has increased steadily. But another trend is also emerging: the widening voting gap between youth enrolled in college and their non-student peers.
NPR logo

Non-College Kids Outsiders to Rising 'Youth Vote'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/71944288/75140288" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Non-College Kids Outsiders to Rising 'Youth Vote'

Non-College Kids Outsiders to Rising 'Youth Vote'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/71944288/75140288" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

There's been a lot of talk about the youth vote this election season. Compared to previous elections, some states are seeing a doubling or tripling of people under 30 turning out for the primaries.

But as NPR's Audie Cornish reports, there is another trend emerging, the widening voting gap between college and their non-student peers.

AUDIE CORNISH: Young voters have been heralded as the new power voting bloc for decades, and campaigns from that of George McGovern to Bill Clinton to John Kerry have welcomed their enthusiasm into the fold with varying degrees of success.

This year, exit polls shows Senator Barack Obama is the favorite of the under-30 set.

Ms. PEANDRA BULBIN: The way he speaks to us, it's not using all these, I guess, dictionary-type words, you know, it's - he break it down. This is how it is. This is what I'm going to do to try to change it and I think that we kind of like, oh, we understand that…

Peandra Bulbin(ph) speaking here at a Dallas Obama rally is typical of the hundreds of young people often seen dancing and cheering in the rafters of Obama events.

Ms. BULBIN: Before I was like, insurgency this and that, and you just like, huh? Well, I'll just go with whoever my parents are thinking, but now it's like, wait a minute, I can actually think about what I'm doing when I go to the polls and I vote for someone. I know what they stand for. And therefore it, you know, makes them more relatable to me.

CORNISH: And it's colleges and universities that anchor his support in some areas, as the polls show 80 percent of the voters under 30 who went to the polls on Super Tuesday attended college.

(Soundbite of applause)

CORNISH: At schools like the University of Texas in Austin, the election is on everyone's minds, says Cyan Manuel(ph), an economics major.

Ms. CYAN MANUEL (Economics Major, University of Texas): Basically, if you walk around our campus, our campus is alive with politics, before I was kind of dead. A lot of people are now getting more interested in politics.

CORNISH: UT Austin hosted the Democrats' debate last week, but Manuel wasn't in the auditorium; she was at the Texas Union ballroom across campus, where students were watching on a movie-sized screen. It was like music, food and the enthusiasm of a sporting event.

(Soundbite of students)

CORNISH: But travel outside of the Austin political bubble and it's not clear that enthusiasm is spilling off campus.

John Peterson(ph) is a 26-year-old skateboard seller who's volunteering his time at an Obama campaign call center. But he finds convincing some of his own friends to be a challenge.

Mr. JOHN PETERSON (Skateboard Seller): I'm trying. A lot of them aren't very politically active. I'm trying to get them down there and vote - and also, I also look at that like a lot of kids that aren't in college are starting their careers and they feel like they don't have the time to be out and vote and they don't want to make the time…

CORNISH: Peterson's friends are more the norm than he is, says Peter Levine of CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

Mr. PETER LEVINE (Director, Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement): The young people that have left high school and are not going to college, they don't congregate as much. They're online somewhat less. You know, there are fewer institutions you can reach them through.

CORNISH: A new study from CIRCLE found that while one in four eligible college students in Super Tuesday states went to the polls, the numbers were more like one in 14 for non-college youth.

Levine says unlike in previous generations, non-college youth today are less likely to be involved in unions or social clubs that encourage political engagement.

Mr. LEVINE: You got your civics education in groups like the NAACP or the Knights of Columbus, but you also got that are connected to political institutions, so literally the candidate would come to the meeting to try to get votes. If you don't congregate with a lot of other people, it's much harder for candidates to reach out to you.

CORNISH: And non-college youth are less likely to believe their vote matters, according to the CIRCLE research. Twenty-five-year-old James Cooper(ph) is a good example. Cooper mans a perfume kiosk at a downtown San Antonio mall. He says he's never been to a political event or had a campaign reach out for him to vote.

Mr. JAMES COOPER (Perfume Seller): I feel like it doesn't matter. I really don't. I say because I hear a lot about what happened with the last election with Bush, I feel like there's no control. I say, we have no control who's in office.

CORNISH: Although online videos and campaign Web sites are among the major sources of election news for young voters, their friends are their number one source of information. So researchers say the widening class divide between college students and their working peers cannot be ignored. It starts in high school where there are disparities in civics education, and can carry on into a young adult's working life.

Audie Cornish, NPR News.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.