After the results from Iowa and New Hampshire, we can safely say: discount young voters at your own risk in 2008.
This year, with the choice between Democratic candidates who are offering change and Republicans who would bring a third Bush term, young people are turning out for Democrats in record numbers.
College Democrats in the nation's first two contests can tell you that the excitement was real and that voter turnout on college campuses reflected that energy. According to CIRCLE (Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement), 19% of New Hampshire voters were young people - up 42% from 2004. That's 84,000 votes - a majority of them for Democrats.
In Iowa, young voters were 22% of all caucus goers, up from 17% in 2004 and matching the number of seniors who participated. And their support for Democrats was overwhelming: of the young people who caucused in Iowa, 80% of them supported Democrats.
Anyone who has been working on youth organizing knew this already. We've consistently seen youth turnout for Democrats increase in the past two elections, but the results in Iowa and New Hampshire show that we are well on our way to unprecedented numbers in 2008.
When I was at Grinnell College in Iowa last week, I got the chance to witness one of the largest caucuses in the state with 484 people, the overwhelming majority being students. Classes hadn't started yet, but the school opened its gym for students to stay in overnight so that they could participate in the caucus. When the time came to pick a corner of the gym, there wasn't enough room due to the unbelievable student turnout. Some caucus goers had to move across the hall into an auditorium.
Yesterday in Hanover, New Hampshire we saw similar results. Home to Dartmouth College, the only college in session in the state, students received a lot of attention from politicians their first week back from break. After the resounding increase in youth turnout in the Iowa caucus, the candidates made sure to stop by and court all 5,750 students on campus.
Polling sites in Hanover started with 2,000 new voter registration forms and ran out by the afternoon. Vote Clamantis, the nonpartisan GOTV group at Dartmouth, estimated that 75% of eligible student voters turned out to the polls.
Though the official youth numbers from the town of Hanover aren't out yet, it appears that in New Hampshire, just as in Iowa, students turned out in record numbers. Doubted for years by pundits and political strategists alike, the power of the youth vote has been the story of this primary season.
Young people have demonstrated yet again that we are a powerful voting bloc in America and are making our voices heard. And we're gravitating towards the Democratic candidates because they're talking about the issues that matter to us, like college affordability, ending the Iraq War, and global warming.
This is good news for America. Young people are not just taking the baton from the generation before them, but actively engaging and willing to work to leave our next generation a stronger America and a better world than the one we're inheriting.
Lauren Wolfe is the President of the College Democrats of America (CDA).
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