Turning Out the Youth Vote

This year’s political campaigns have highlighted the potential role of young voters in choosing the nation’s next leader. What many Americans don’t know is that this youth vote got a lot bigger on a June day 45 years ago.

That was in 1972, when the 26th Amendment to the Constitution became law, lowering the age requirement for voting in national elections from 21 to 18 years old.

In a stroke, the 26th Amendment added 11 million voters to the electorate, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.

If you look at the often razor-thin margins of victory in recent national elections (it was about 5 million nationwide in 2012, and much less in key swing states), it’s clear that the youth vote could determine the presidency.

However, records from the past 45 years show that rarely do the majority of eligible young voters show up to vote. In presidential contests the turnout is in the 40-50% range; in congressional elections it rarely gets past 30% of eligible voters aged 18-24.

Politicians yearn to capture the hearts and minds of young voters – especially now. With the enormous millennial generation reaching voting age, a high turnout among young voters could, indeed, decide the election.

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