John F. Kennedy beat Richard Nixon in the 1960 race for the presidency by a margin of little more than one vote per precinct. Political experts on all sides say the current dead heat between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush looks to be as close, if not closer, than that historic election.
In addition to the race for the White House, the Michigan Legislature and U.S. Congress are only a few seats away from switching party control. In the era of poll-driven politics, where media focus and campaigns group voters down to their favorite cologne on a candidate, this genuinely unknown outcome is a rare and special moment in our history.
The best part about such a tight race, however, is that young people make all the difference. 18- to 30-year-olds are 22 percent of the overall population in Michigan. That means they are over a quarter of all eligible voters in this critical swing state. There is an old national political saying that as Michigan goes, so goes the White House. In the 2000 elections, it may be fair to say that the young voters reading this column may just pick the next president of the United States.
As Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura knew in the 1998 elections, three-fourths of all nonvoters are under the age of 44, with the majority of that bloc being under the age of 30. A candidate who can tap into this pool of potential voters can surprise all the pundits and media, who usually discount the power of the 18- to 30-year-old vote.
Arizona Sen. John McCain repeatedly says he could not have won the Michigan primary without the youth vote. Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader has young people as the backbone of his campaign and college campuses as a large portion of his support. These candidates, and Ventura, who attributes his surprise election to young voters, realize what all candidates and voters need to know in the final moments of this election: Young people can decide this election.
In a campaign season dominated by issues like prescription drug costs, Social Security, Medicare and other issues targeting more dependable senior voters, it is time for young people to weigh in and decide this election. It is time for us to break the cycle of mutual neglect, a vicious circle where politicians ignore young people because we have not historically voted at high levels, then young people ignore politicians and stay home on Election Day.
Youth Vote 2000, the largest non-partisan coalition ever established to engage young people in the political process, has been fighting this cycle all year. With more than 75 national organizations, 1,500 local and state organizations and 22 full time organizers in the field, the coalition has launched the greatest non-partisan mobilization of young people in history. We call on all 18- to 30-year-olds to join this growing movement and end the cycle of neglect today.
Our generation is volunteering at the highest levels of any in the history of the United States. We are working in our communities and do care a great deal about this country. No honest political commentary can any longer call this group apathetic. The issue is simply that young people have not been engaged by politics.
However, in this election cycle the Youth Vote 2000 coalition has organized more than 100 youth-focused debates and forums. Our goal was to force candidates to talk about issues young people care about in ways that are relevant to our lives. Health care is an excellent example of this phenomenon. Countless politicians discuss the need for health care, however, almost no candidate will ever address the fact that 18- to 24-year-olds are the most uninsured group in this country.
During these debates and forums candidates directly addressed the aspects of the major issues young people cared about, for example discussing higher education as opposed to simply plans for K-12 education. In the areas where these interactions occurred, the cycle is set to be broken and now it is all about getting out the vote.
Young people across Michigan and across the country are mobilizing themselves to get to the polls. Youth Vote 2000 coalitions will be doing massive phone-bank and door-knocking drives in these final moments before the election. The Youth Vote 2000 coalition will also be running Get Out The Vote public service announcements on FM radio stations in many of the local areas.
However, in the end it is all about the individuals reading this paper and deciding that their generation has been ignored long enough. It will hinge on every young person reminding a friend that an election this close may never come along again in our lifetime.
Most importantly, it is about all young people in the country realizing that Election Day is the beginning, not the end, of our role in politics. If we have to regain the attention of politicians one by one, we will. This movement will only grow once the election dust has settled. As an old friend once told me, there is nothing more powerful than a good idea whose time has come. Our time is here, our moment in history is ready, so lets shock all the cynics and come out voting today.
Ryan Friedrichs is the Youth Vote 2000 deputy campaign manager and a State News guest columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.