[Opinion] – Youth could decide Minnesota

Barack Obama and John McCain, according to several recent statewide polls, are in a statistical tie in Minnesota, which hasnâÄôt elected for a Republican presidential candidate since Richard Nixon won in a landslide in 1972. Recent youth voting polls, meanwhile, indicate that the youth vote nationally could have a markedly greater impact on elections since the 26th Amendment passed in 1972. If 18- to 24-year-olds vote this year in Minnesota at the rate some polls indicate, they could decide which candidate the state elects for its 10 Electoral College votes. To be sure, the youth have typically been a flaky voting bloc which appear to be the darling of politicians on the campaign trail only to be their bastard at the polls, voting at half, and in some southern states as low as 35 percent, of what its numbers constitute. During the 2004 presidential election, for instance, roughly 47 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted nationally. Furthermore, my forecast is based on an admittedly tenuous assumption that McCain and Obama would, without the youth voting bloc, be in a dead heat in the state. Polling, after all, is by its very nature a dubious enterprise wherein reliability depends on minuscule details. Critics, for instance, have recently questioned polling methodology of only calling land lines while conducting polls. Still, almost every recent poll shows no certain winner in Minnesota. A Quinnipiac University Sept. 14 through 21 poll, for example, showed Obama leading McCain by two percent with six percent of voters undecided. Moreover, the stakes in this presidential election are remarkable. None of the candidates are an incumbent and both seem to be running against President George W. BushâÄôs presidency, which has seen two ongoing wars, a lower international standing for the United States and most recently a veritable economic meltdown. Perhaps illustrating this point, the Star Tribune reported Sunday that 84 percent of Minnesota voters are already registered, surpassing the stateâÄôs record. Minnesota has same-day registration and if the amount of voters who register on election day this year as in 2004, a staggering nine out of 10 people in the state will vote. Meanwhile, nationally, youth voting trends have been on the rise. In 2004 10 percent more youth voters came to the polls than in 2000 while that same time period saw a only 3 percent increase in voters older than 24. Most importantly, Minnesota during the 2004 presidential election led the nation with 69 percent of its 18- to 24-year-old voters showing up at the polls âÄî constituting 11 percent of Minnesota voters that year âÄî according to the Civic Youth Voting Project. Fifty-six percent of voters in that age group cast ballots for Sen. John Kerry while 42 percent did so for Bush. For voters older than 24, the state went 48 percent Bush and 52 percent Kerry. Significantly, while the youth voting bloc statewide has gone to the polls in smaller percentages of its population than older voting blocs, it has more room to grow. During the 2004 election, for instance, roughly 81 percent of eligible voters older than 25 went to the polls. ItâÄôs going to be much easier for youth voter turnout to augment from 69 percent than the older bloc to grow from 81. Additionally, this yearâÄôs election seems to already be favoring younger, more internet-savvy voters, who arguably won Obama Iowa in the Primaries. Like most states, Minnesota employs a winner-take-all system wherein whichever candidate wins the highest percentage of votes wins all 10 Electoral College votes. During the 2004 elections, 18- to 24-year-olds constituted 15 percent of the stateâÄôs total population, a number that has not dramatically changed. During that year, Minnesota elected Kerry by 3 percent and in 2000 the state elected Gore by 2 percent. The math is hypothetical. The claim that the youth vote could decide the election for the state is indeed a lofty one. But the numbers are unarguably close, and the prospect that the youth in the state could write their own future âÄî be it a thriving or damning one âÄî is too great to risk on apathy. Justin Horwath is the editorials and opinions editor. Please send comments to [email protected]