WASHINGTON – They'll be the ones paying for the long-term effects of the war on terror and their parents' and grandparents' retirements,but that doesn't mean young people will rush to the polls Tuesday.
And that worries Brad Swain,19,a finance major at the University of Rhode Island.
“The administration in power and the people that make all the big decisions on policy have figured out that we don't really pay attention and we don't get out to vote,” Swain said. “They know they can please the public at the moment,and once the people who vote are pleased,they kind of shrug off what concerns the rest of us.”
It's the biggest of the generations – the baby-boomers – who have the ear of the politicians and call the shots,URI economics Professor Arthur Mead said.
“I'm a boomer,and do we worry about things like global warming?” Mead said. “No. We'll be dead.”
While policymakers enact laws that cater to the immediate needs of older,dependable voters,youth voters “are getting screwed,” he said.
Big government spending also worries Swain,particularly what is being spent in Iraq. The Congressional Research Service reported the U.S. spent $6.4 billion a month in Iraq in 2005.
The debt racked up by the older generations will come back to haunt the younger ones,Mead said.
“It's a great scam,” he said. “It's a great deal. We're living fat.” He pointed out that the U.S. is indebted to China. “What happens if China says,‘Wait a minute,[the U.S.] is flooding the world with 800 billion dollars a year. We don't trust them to pay us back?'”
Some analysts say Social Security represents another threat underestimated by America's youngest voters.
“It's one thing that a lot of people don't talk about,but the problem is very clear,” said William Beach,director of the Center for Data Analysis at the Heritage Foundation.
When the baby boomers start to retire in less than six years,the Social Security payrolls will overload,Beach said.
“We'll be getting literally millions onto the Social Security rolls,and by that time,it will be too late to reform,” Beach said. “That's why it's really important that we make these reforms now. But Congress is running out of time to make the reforms before they'll have to raise taxes to do it.”
Yet,because solutions such as privatization frighten voters who can remember the aftermath of the Great Depression,Congress has been slow to address the issue,Beach said.
Still others consider the call for reforming Social Security a scare tactic to snag younger voters.
“I think the major reason why Social Security came up as an issue was that Republicans were looking to capture more of the youth demographic,” said David Rosenfeld,the national program director for the Student Public Interest Research Groups' New Voters Project.
Oklahoma City University business and economics student Clint Harris,20,said just because issues affect young voters doesn't mean they should vote,particularly if they are not educated on the issues.
“Children are being affected by things all the time,and we're not going to extend the vote to them,” Harris said.
In fact,Harris said he discourages peers from voting by informing them that their vote does not count as much as they think.
“I'm around people my age all the time,and the idea of them voting is scary,” Harris said. “They say things like,‘I want to legalize abortion because I want to be able to have as much sex as possible,' or,‘I want to lower the legal age because I want to drink as much as I want at parties.'”
Rock the Vote's political director Hans Riemer said he objected to this judgment.
“Personally,I think a squirrel can figure out the difference between Republicans and Democrats,” Riemer said.
Nearly one-third of 18- to 24-year-olds plan to vote Tuesday,according to a Harvard poll released Wednesday.
Riemer and Rosenfeld agree with that prediction,but Swain said he doubts his age group will make much of a showing.
“It's our own ignorance,” Swain said. “It would be ironic if we knew what was going on,followed everything and then didn't vote,but most of us … they're not educated enough to care.”
Swain said it's too bad because the candidates will determine his generation's future.
“It's this time bomb that ticks as long as they're in power,and it will get passed to us when it's time to go off,” he said.