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Will Young Voters Steal the Show in 2012? Maybe, If Lawmakers Listen

Posted: Dec 26, 2011

 Before the 99 percent captured the world’s attention, another number helped energize an often overlooked part America’s electorate: 58 percent. That’s the percentage of black voters between the ages of 18 and 29 who showed up at the polls in 2008 to elect the country’s first African American president. It was an extraordinarily promising number; in an election that drew its strength from the eagerness of young voters, black youth led the charge. Nearly two million more black voters between the ages of 18 and 24 cast ballots in 2008 than they did in 2004. While white voter turnout stayed relatively the same as it had been when George W. Bush won a second turn, the 2008 election showed that young voters of color—including records numbers of young Latino and Asian voters—were now a statistically significant voice in America’s democratic future.

Obama’s brand of political change turned out to be a painstakingly gradual one—and, at times, frustrating. So it’s no surprise that political skepticism and an eager conservative base helped lead to lower voter turnout numbers in 2010. But as the 2012 presidential election kicks into full gear, operatives from both parties will be looking to engage younger voters. And as they do, they’ll have to pay attention to what drives young folks into the political process, and how they’ve managed to turn that process inside out.

Shortly before the 2010 congressional elections, I spent some time reporting from Milwaukee. Though Wisconsin’s election of Gov. Scott “I-hate-public-workers” Walker that year turned out to be part of a conservative tide that washed over America, Milwaukee had already long been a symbol America’s neglect. It’s a poor, deindustrialized city with mostly black and brown residents and few jobs. But the young organizers I spoke to had used those facts to help galvanize their peers. While the 2008 election had been their coming-of-age of sorts, they embraced the opportunity to shape their own destinies precisely because they could see clearly what was at stake. Read more here.

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