BOSTON – The Democratic National Committee is betting on a long shot this fall – the young voter.
From its youth essay contest to its musical guests to its push for young delegates,the convention seems to be investing in the minds,hearts and votes of generation Y.
But recent history shows that's an investment without a great return. In the last presidential election,only 32 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted,compared to the national average of 55 percent,according to the Census Bureau. With only 45 percent of those under 25 registered to vote that year,they had no chance of reaching the national mark.
Could this year be any different?
Hopeful Democrats say yes. Asked by the Census Bureau why they didn't vote,young people most often answered that they were out of town,not interested or too busy. The war in Iraq could spark their interest,said Zach Hoover,a 23-year-old convention delegate from Philadelphia.
“We've seen so many of our friends shipped off,” Hoover said. “There's nobody that hasn't been involved or doesn't know someone that has been sent.”
The older members of Pennsylvania's delegation have told Hoover they've never seen a convention so inundated with young people and activities created for them as this year's,he said.
Young people are all over the place at the convention. They wear stickers and buttons that say “Pro-Kerry,Pro-Edwards,Pro-Choice” or “Smart,Sexy and Liberal.”
And events on the convention stage have been geared toward them. Performers such as the Black Eyed Peas and Wyclef Jean sang tunes popular with a younger audience,although Peter,Paul and Mary also appeared on the convention podium. Candidates have been introduced by their children. The youngest convention delegate,17-year-old Sarah Bender of Ohio,led the convention in the Pledge of Allegiance Wednesday night. MTV's Rock the Vote held parties all week.
Many DNC staff members are college students. And organizations such as the College Democrats and the Democratic Grassroots Action Institute and Network have hosted programs to train young people to register others their age.
Dan Keegan,30,a banker from Poughkeepsie,N.Y.,said he doesn't think registering a large number of young people should be a problem because they are worried about the war and the possibility the draft could be reinstated.
But even Keegan,who has voted in every presidential election since he could,said it will be hard work,especially with Sen. John Kerry as the Democratic candidate.
“I'm not crazy about Kerry,” said Keegan,who volunteered for retired general Wesley Clark when he vied for the party's nomination. “He comes off like a rich,white guy who can't connect with voters.” Keegan does like running mate Sen. John Edwards.
Young people are organizing themselves at the convention meant to nominate that rich,white guy,however. Following the example of blacks,Hispanics and women,they have their own caucus – the Youth Caucus. At the caucus' Thursday meeting,guests included Teresa Heinz Kerry,Jerry Springer and Sean “P Diddy” Combs,who was pushing his youth vote campaign,“Vote or Die.”
The Democratic Party is the party of young people,said Brendan Martin,a 21-year-old student from Stony Point,N.Y.,and youth outreach coordinator for a Democratic grassroots organization.
“I think that the Democrats fall more in line with the issues important to students,like insurance and student loans,” he said.
There is a perception among young people that “politics isn't sexy. It isn't cool,” he said. “That's what we've got to change.”