The Vanishing Young Voter

The Oregonian's Betsy Hammond has an article this morning that discusses how younger voters in Oregon performed even worse than usual in May's Primary:

Almost 80 percent of registered Oregon voters in their 30s -- people settling into careers, buying homes and starting families -- opted to sit out May's primary election, an analysis by The Oregonian shows.

Older voters have always participated more heavily in elections than new voters. But when it came to picking nominees for governor, setting county commission lineups and deciding school bond issues in Oregon this spring, voters in their teens and early 20s weren't the only ones who sat out.

Barely one in four registered voters in their late 30s and early 40s voted. Voters ages 30 to 35 were no more likely than registered 18- and 19-year-olds to cast a ballot, the analysis found.

Go over and take a look at this potentially discouraging article, then come back over and discuss.

  • LT (unverified)

    voters in their teens and early 20s weren't the only ones who sat out. Barely one in four registered voters in their late 30s and early 40s voted. Voters ages 30 to 35 were no more likely than registered 18- and 19-year-olds to cast a ballot, the analysis found.

    Here is what I don't understand from the article--is the statewide voter registration database able to connect ballots returned with age of voter?

    Some years ago, I talked with our local county elections office and was told they had information on age of voters (on paper or in database back then? I don't recall). They kept track of the names of voters casting ballots to see who voted. But they had no way at that time to match up John Doe returned his ballot with John Doe's age in the voter registration file. If the ability to do that matching now exists,that is very interesting.

    What the article didn't cover was how many voters under the age of 45 are registered with a party. If they are registered outside a party they could have voted in hot local races (Ted Wheeler vs. Dianne Linn in Mult. Co., for instance) but if they are registered in a party and wanted to sign Westlund's petition, they couldn't vote in a partisan primary.

    That wasn't mentioned in the article. And if voters not registered in a party live in a county where there weren't any hotly contested local elections (city or county officials, local judges, etc.)why would they vote in the 2006 May election?

    Because a newspaper article says it is their duty even if there aren't hotly contested elections?

  • David (unverified)

    This is your classic biennial "Young Voters fail to participate" article. Its to borrow a phrase "full of sound and fury signifying nothing". I agree with LT, if you lived for example in my county, Washington County, where the only real contested race in my area was a low profile county commission race, why would people, especially NAVs (Independents) vote. One thing you have to remember is that 40% turnout in Oregon for a primary is bad only because we set such a high bar. In most states they are lucky to hit 30%.

    As for ages being in voterfiles, it is absolutely there. When you see a voterfile line it looks something like this: Name HD SD CD Birthdate Age Sex Party Phone # Smith, Joe 27, 14, 1, 1/1/1950, 56, M, D, (503)297-5555, and so on to include a record of how you voted, any IDs made on that voter, etc.

    Given that who has voted is public info, this is fairly easy to find out.

  • JHL (unverified)

    Yeah... it does sound like Westlund's target audience, all right.

    Could it be that when the parties came together and passed that law that was meant to make it more difficult for Westlund to qualify... it backfired?

    Instead of closing their doors to Westlund, did these voters decide that they'd actually rather close their doors to the partisan primary?

    Without some detailed polling, it'd be impossible to say, but it does have the makings of a fairy-tale win for Westlund -- the big strong parties ally to keep the indie out of the fray (just like 1930), but end up shooting themselves in the foot.

  • rafaelbaptista (unverified)

    Seems like you people are in denial about the vanishing youth vote. As a high schooler and a someone who does work for youth voter regrisration groups I promise you its vanishing. In high school the importance of voting is never really taught and there are no resources to regsiter to vote. Instead of denial lets fix the problem. For example every time you move you have to register to vote, but 70% of people who live in apratments move every year and many dont regrister. Also radicalism is a problem. The far left controls the democratic party and the neocons control the republican. Tops contenders for president in 2008, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Bill Frist to name a few, are all far left or right. I can name a few moderate candidiates who arent radical but only a few. They include brad avakian ( SD-17 hopeful) tobias read, and a few others. Because most urban apratments are locked buildings its very hard for canididates to talk face to face with young voters( best method) compared to older voters in the subarbs. Also a while ago a post and its comments on blueoregon said a problem with canvass's like the bus project suffer from "wet behind their ears high schoolers". I think remarks like that do nothing but destroy our chances our getting the youth to vote. As a 16 year old I can proudly say I have been on over 30 canvass's for the bus project, canidiates, the hope measure, and voter regristation. The other high school volunteers at the bus project are also expreainced and hard working. Give us due credit and admit that the youth vote is vanshing. The comments on this post have thus fore disgusted and insulted me and the youth who actually care about politics and due something about it.

    Rafael Baptista

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    Here is what I don't understand from the article--is the statewide voter registration database able to connect ballots returned with age of voter?

    Yes, LT, that's exactly what's going on here. Each voter record - both in the statewide system and in the earlier county systems - includes multiple data points about each voter: name, address, birthdate (thus, age), and a record of every election in which that person voted.

    So, yes, you can cross-check age with whether an individual voted. Under the county system, that was a painful process involving 36 databases (some of them pretty rudimentary) - but now it's just a single database.

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    I hope we all forward the big "O"s Bestsy Hammond article to everyone we know to remind them to vote.

  • Edanomel (unverified)

    I don't blame the youngsters for not voting. When you have garbage initiatives that are mean spirited, supposed to be decided by our lazy legislature, or blocked because of the courts it not hard to see why they feel that no matter how they vote, they are screwed. That goes with our choices for governor. Why vote when you know you will get trahsed as a citizen no matter who is running the show, or no matter what the issue is?

  • KZ (unverified)

    [off-topic comment deleted. -editor.]

  • boikin (unverified)

    Maybe I missed the point. Is it not OK for people not to vote? This is America.

    If an issue comes across to them as compelling, they'd probably vote.

    My guess is if you suspected these young voters would not vote your way, you'd be a lot less concerned about their voting.

  • Larry (unverified)

    Well, young people don't vote because they are apathetic and mostly lazy (although I used to know one young person who was engaged and energetic, not that there's anything wrong with that).

    But boikin has a point. It is not okay for young people to not vote the way that they are supposed to (you know, the Bus Project etc). We need young voters...and we need them to vote Bus Project ways...and they should fall in line and obey.

  • Fred Heutte (unverified)

    It was a good article, but hardly a surprise. Some of you know I've been working with voter data from Oregon since 1994 (and currently with almost all states).

    I've been doing analysis since at least 1997 showing the dropoff in voting for "young" voters (people are always shocked when I say that "young" in this sense means under 45 or even 50 -- rather than the usual focus on the 18-24 segment). It has always been thus to some degree, but is far more prevalent now.

    "Bowling Alone" has an excellent chapter on voting patterns that shows this is not isolated; it is the consequence of the erosion of social capital since the early 1960s. Robert Putnam and his study team showed pretty convincingly that this is related most to the dominance of TV in the last four decades -- watching simply crowds out other activities.

    The decline in our national political fabric is both a cause and effect. As politics has become more professionalized, the tendency has been to drive voters away because it's easier to discourage voters from voting for the opponent through negative advertising than to gain votes for your candidate with positive messages.

    David Sarasohn said something that makes a lot of since in this regard after the Democratic debacle in the November 2002 election: "if you have nothing to say, people hear you."

    Voters coming into the electorate before the Vietnam era continue to vote out of a sense of duty. As mentioned previously, voting as a key act of citizenship was emphasized in those long-ago "civics" classes but "not no more." But that's really a symptom rather than a cause, I think. Younger voters often tell me, "I'm not political." Like it's a badge of pride. And really, I can't blame them. It's the rational perspective to have unless you are unusually politically motivated.

    The professionalization of campaigns has mostly removed the need for involving local activists, and licking envelopes and making poorly planned last-minute "get out the vote" calls -- now increasingly replaced by automated "robo-calls" which research shows has no effect whatsoever on turnout ("but hey, they're cheap!") -- offers little for even potential political activists to grab hold and learn the ropes.

    I have been working for years to provide the basic party/gender/age/voting history information to groups to help with their voter motivation activities. This has fueled young voter turnout efforts in various parts of the country with precisely definable results. But the big campaign machines don't care about ripples of voters even if they could become floods -- they care mostly about TV and mass mail, phone and email.

    And yet some of the best examples of how the revival of direct voter contact, including with young voters, actually gets results have been here in Oregon. November 2004 was no fluke. In my former precinct (Multnomah 1025) in Northwest Porland, streetcorner and door-to-door voter registration for months drove registration up from 3500 to 5500 voters, most in the 25-40 age range. And guess what? Despite the old hands who were just sure they wouldn't vote - they did, over 80% of all new registrants voted in November 2004.

    This was a big reason Kerry got 3 points more in Oregon than Gore did in 2000 despite running an incredibly lousy campaign. It wasn't about Kerry, it was about the enormous effort to talk with voters who have been systematically excluded by the modern campaign techniques because they aren't "motivated voters." And why should they be if campaigns and candidates don't care about them?

    The younger voters who signed up and voted in November 2004 didn't vote in May 2006. Why? Do you think it might be that as new and therefore "unmotivated" voters, they were skipped over by most campaigns? Maybe if you never talk to voters under 45, they think you don't care about them.

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    I think the article was very interesting. It says alot about what is going on in our state and our nation right now.

    My thought is much of the attitude is due to apathy among younger people. The 2004 election was an unusual situation as there was a large push to get younger people to register and vote.

    I'm in this category that the article is talking about, but I'm a political nut so you can't count me as a typical person.

    The two things that I think play into the apathy of younger voter is the political bickering and polerization of the parties. It seems like there are very few moderate politicans, either your right or left.

    I also have to wonder if younger people are knowledgeable enough in terms of how our government works. This could be why doing your civic duty to vote has gone out the window. You can't force people to vote, they have to WANT to vote.

    One of the interesting things that caught my attention from this was that some people who are raising kids are not voting. This to me, doesn't make sense. With all the problems with our schools, it seems like they should care enough about the future of their children to vote.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    I think a much more important point, since at this point in time this kind of analysis is trivial under the combined changes wrought by HAVA and VBM, it is disgraceful that people want the state to make it easier for identity thieves and companies like ChoicePoint that aggregate personal info for profit by increasing the need for the state to collate information such as in the voter record. Since this has been done primarily by right wingers as part of their efforts to suppress voter turnout, and so that VBM proponents can sit on their lazy butts at home to vote rather than go to a polling place, maybe young people are of not taking their role as voters in a representative democracy seriously from the combined efforts of anti-democracy right-wingers and self-centered VBM proponent elders, don't you think?

    Aside from that this article also begs the question: Is it possible that those who think they are so brillliant and advocate VBM and all the other small d-democracy activities in Oregon and the NW may not know what they are talking about when it comes to creating a truly more active and engaged electorate?

  • John Capardoe (unverified)

    My son is in that age group, and he voted in the last election but he did not vote for all the postions, because he felt he didn't know enough about the candidates to distinguish between them.

    I think voters are overwhelmed, we have urbanized so most of the people running aren't a person you have any contact with. Look at Nick Fish, who ran for council, he rolled into town to facilitate his wifes career, a nice man no doubt, but part of a New York Political dyanasty, not the guy next door who you met at PTA meetings, and eventually ran for school board, then the state legislature to try and advocate for your community as your representative.

    I really miss voting at my local neighborhood elementary school, seeing the person whose small business I used to patronize checking in the voters who knew who I was and I was the real person listed on the roster and checked in twice a year.

    What we need is to bring the decisionmaking down to the neighborhood level again whereever possible, so that people vote for people who actually make decisions they can see and be held accountable for, then you would see a renewed interest in voting. I think most people, particularly saavy young people feel like they have no influence and voting doesn't matter, most public argument is in the media, and controlled by who knows. The blogs may get a discussion going that is not controlled, and maybe we can engage young people again, as well as older disillusioned boomers.

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    A couple of extensions to my remarks in the article (and to comments here).

    I think it's important to keep in mind the main focus of the article: the total number of voters in the 70+ age category exceeded the total number from 18-45, even though there are 3.5 times as many in those younger age groups.

    This means that any explanation needs to explain the differential rate of turnout.

    This is far worse that the biennial "young people don't vote" articles. I meant it when I said I was "shocked" at those figures. There is always an age gap in turnout, but I have never heard of a state where the gap is this large.

    Nor have I heard of one where the age gap "extends" so much. Typically we think of the "youth" voting problem as 18-24 year olds. What does it say about Oregon that our "age gap" extends all the way to 45?

    Some other things I suggested to Betsy (and working with Fred, things I may be able to answer next year; Betsy didn't have the time or computing resources to pursue):

    • Does the relationship hold outside of Multnomah County? My speculation was that MC is drawing a lot of 20-40 somethings who aren't particular attached to Oregon politically. Is our pursuit of the young creative class fraying the fabric of civic life?

    • Does Fred's speculation hold true--if you crosstabulate turnout in 2006 by date of initial registration, will you find much lower turnout among those who registered in the last three months before the 2004 election? I think this is almost certainly true, and means that we won't have a good handle on long term trends in turnout until 2008 or 2010.

  • Brian (unverified)

    While I vote and I guess I encourage others to vote, I am also of the opinion that it is almost pointless. My societal goal is the creation of a just and sustainable society. The act of voting will never get us there.

    First, most elections are decided by thousands and thousands of votes so one vote does not make a difference in our winner take all system.

    The problems facing us and our planet will not be solved by government. They will not be solved by the same system that created the mess.

    Our democracy has been through 1000's of elections over hundreds of years yet you can't point to a single place, anywhere at anytime, where the system produced a just, sustainable society. We are batting 0 of 10,000 yet we have implicit faith that this system will someday hit a home run. Are we fools?

    I'm a Green and believe in democracy but the current electoral system, societal values and government institutions have us heading towards the brink of ecological disaster. Oregon has had a string of Democratic governors and progressive elected leaders yet we remain an infinite distance from being a sustainable and just society. Those are my societal goals and they won't come from voting.

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    We're clear on the Green positions regarding what won't work, but many of us are not content to wait until the ad-besotted masses rise up from their Barcaloungers and reach for the pitchforks and torches.

    The only encouraging comment on the entire thread so far has been Mr. Huette's assertions regarding the effectiveness of door to door organizing. If his figures are accurate, we have a template that works.

    As for the your Mr. Batista, I'd suggest that they only serve Kool-Aid as his school, if he thinks that Hillary and JK are far-left. Hillary appears to have no ideology at all beyond securing the nomination through selective pandering, and Kerry cannot seem to learn basic English or simulate emotions with any credibility.

    Reason, logic, and critical thinking are the tools needed, but until we make this a priority in primary education, we'll be stuck trying to spin soundbites. And yeah, I get that this is pretty lame in that we're playing a crooked game using rules set by the other side.

  • Brian (unverified)


    I'm not suggesting we wait for the masses to unplug their TV's. We need ACTION and voting isn't action. It's a passive activity that disempowers citizens as we assume the elected officials will solve the problems only we can solve.

    I agree we need to teach and learn critical thinking skills however the schools are DESIGNED to dumb us down so we are happy flipping burgers and being passive consumers. That is their purpose and they do it extremely well. For that reason, I believe we need a separation of school and state.

    Notice the High Schooler above thinks we should teach the importance of voting. It's important to note that our schools don't teach civics and if they did, they certainly wouldn't teach anything that upsets the status quo.

    We need a revolution with radical fundamental changes and that won't happen at the ballot box.

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    I'll continue to maintain that the low turnout in the 2006 primary is the result of a lack of anything to vote on. Other than the gubernatorial race, there was nothing near the top of the ballot that had any interest at all (besides the CD2 Democrats - and they had money to push their messages.) And in the governor's race, nearly all the television messaging was negative - which we know drives turnout down.

    I don't believe that the 2006 primary results are due to a sudden collapse in civic participation in Oregon, but rather the result of a boring ballot.

    Looking ahead, we have no US Senate race, no competitive congressional races, and nothing statewide except the governor's race. Unless a ballot measure or two captures the public's imagination, don't expect much more.

    Of course, in 2008, we'll have a US Senate race, three competitive statewide races (AG, SOS, Treasurer), and of course, a presidential. I expect a rebound.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Fred Heutte made some good suggestions for why the young don't vote. I'll make some guesses of my own:

    Corporatized infotainment news avoids difficult issues, especially if they deal with the negative effects of corporations, e.g., global warming, and stresses the shallow and flashy. Candidates are forced to buy ads if they want face time near elections. Corporate news loves government fraud, waste, and abuse stories, which, of course, make people more cynical about government.

    The destruction of the American middle class means more people are working longer hours and more jobs, leaving less time and energy for politics.

    We are awash in entertainment opportunities. The circus is everywhere, always.

    Underfunded, job-preparation driven public education has created multiple generations of intellectual slackers. Like a muscle, the brain atrophies if not exercised.

    Triangulating candidates make differences seem small and situational. Playing to the middle leaves everyone else out.

  • Rafael Baptista (unverified)


    I agree I think that they should serve kool-aid at my school, it would be a lot better then the horrible stuff they currently sell. I would take a nice kool-aid over a soda any day. I didnt imply that Clinton and Kerrys ideas were radical, what I meant is that the way they try to win votes paints them as radical. What I mean by radical is someone who trys to win votes by bashing on another guy. I agree that clinton doesnt have much in terms of ideas, but her love for bashing the other party to a point where many republicans probably pray for her to roll over and die is radical. Kerry bashing the war on Iraq to a point where even anti war democrats voted agaisnt his bill and him not putting anything else out is radical. Radical politics is not just about ideas but also about how you go about things. In the civil rights movement you had radical groups like the black panthers who preached and praticed an eye for an eye and then you had men like Martin Luther King Jr. who got it done without radical actions. A good politican in my view is one who works with both sides of the aisle. I rememeber that when I went to the US Senate Gallery this year very few senators from different parties talked to each other. Also of all the people who I have regristed to vote only one joined a party. ( she was a mormon who joined the republican party).


    P.S pat if your going to make not so sunny remarks about me, at least spell my name right.

  • Edanomel (unverified)

    None of you have convinced me to start voting again. I know it is sad, but I feel like no matter what I vote for or who I vote for- I am screwed.

    I don't vote on initiatives because they are either mean sprited in the issue itself, should have been decided by the legislature, or (if approved by the voters) sent to the courts never to be seen again. To me, a vote for an initiative is a wasted vote, especially when it passes and some anonymous rich person sends it to the courts.

    And what about the candidates? Everything is for the family. I am single, not married, have no kids, but well off moneywise. But all I hear is family this and family that. No matter who I vote for - I am screwed because I am viewed as a political pariah. As a canvasser once told me - "one person does not a family make"

    Now -- I challenge any of you to get me to vote again without any propaganda rhetoric. Just facts.


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    Yeah, but your name is "lemonade" backwards. So start making some from the lemons you got.

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    I think a big part of it is indeed the lack of civics education taught in school. As I've told many people, what got me involved in politics above my local school board was a civics project we had to do my freshman year. Before the project was even complete, I was already working at my local dem campaign office.

    This primary season a lot of it had to do with the lack of reasons to vote. For some people in my area, the only "contested" races were county chair (which most people already figured how that would go), judge races (which had a 50%+ undervote), and governor (which we also were pretty sure how that would go). Not much of a reason for anyone to vote.

    I think the decline in voting has multiple reasons-- and none of the big reasons are the lack of voting in your neighborhood. Otherwise, areas like my home state would have seen greater turnout than 9%-- we vote locally... even my tiny town had several polling locations.

    I'll also say that I am 28 and I think I've only missed 2 elections in my life-- one because my hubby forgot to drop off the ballots and one because I was busy and sick and completely forgot about that minor election. That's it. Then again, I'm an oddity-- the first ballot I cast had my name on it... I was running for school board.

  • John Capradoe (unverified)

    The problem with not voting is then you get to say things like Edanomel, and claim no ownership of the democracy, which is at the heart of what makes Democracy work, the people controlling their government.

    All the excuses are unfortuneatly very real to some extent, and the media both paid and today's conglomerated versions of the William Randolp Hearst blueprint rising again under deregulation has a terrible trackrecord and influence on the process.

    So how do we help Edanomel make Lemonade out of all this and we make sure our elected officals and ballot measures represent the will of the majority of the people.

    How about Edanomel and all the disillussioned voters put an initiative on the ballot that accomplishes the following.

    1. Puts "Rejects All Candidates" as an option for each elected office. a. If this item Reject wins, the current office holder stays on for a month while the parties select new candidates to run. b. On the State Income tax form collect a poll tax adjusted to fund extra elections and give everyone a partial rebate up to 90% for those that voted in every election and fund the election process with the unrefunded poll tax on those who don't vote.

    2. If there is less than a 50% voter turnout in an election so that Bond measures have to be run again. Up the poll tax and vote every month until there is a majority turnout.

    3. If you are eligible and physically able but not registered to vote, you pay a double poll tax.

    Voting is not only a right but a responsbility, I agree people should not be asked to hold their nose and vote, as we have now in as many presidential elections as I can remember after being teased in the primaries with fresh voices and ideas. Our elections reek of the old Soviet ones where I don't really see much other than rhetoric separating the parties, I have been registered as an independent for many years now and turned in my ballot usually finding at least one issue I could vote on even if I left the rest blank.

    BTW, another interesting option on Ballot measures would be

    "This is absolutely rediculous and Should not even be on the Ballot"

    If 50% or more of the voters voted this way, then the initator would have to pay double the administrative cost to put it on the ballot.

  • boikin (unverified)

    The fact is right and left wing nuts turn off the majority of Americans. The half-truths and name calling are transparent to most people. It doesn't take a Phd in Sociology to figure out people vote more when issues become personally complelling. It's pretentious to assume those not obsessed with politics require "educating."

  • askquestions1st (unverified)


    In your comments lie the demonstration why younger folks (and in my mind younger is post-baby-boom who have done a poor job of raising civically aware children - early 40's is just about the upper-limit of the oldest baby-boomers' children in case no one noticed), and to some degree urban NW'ers for self-selected "social design" reasons as Gronke has pointed out, don't vote.

    So I'll ask you point blank: Where did folks in that younger demographic ever get the idea it is the job of candidates to motivate them to vote?

    Let's be clear here: It is the job of candidates to articulate sets of value to get people to vote for them. It is the responsibility and obligation of the electorate collectively to motivate themselves to vote>/>, not of the individual candidates. Do you understand the difference?

    (It's interesting that Jenni Simonis does, and yet in the past she has been criticized for other comments reflecting this depth of understanding by several of you who think you know so much.)

    Fred Huette -

    Fred, actually your experience suggests why although direct-voter contact campaiging has a role, it it is not a meaningful systemic response to this problem: In these times, it is little more than a reactionary approach to whipping up emotion temporarily. It also has the negative reinforcing side of effect of justifying this consumerist expectation in the 45-and-under set that somehow it is the job of someone to convince them to vote.

    My experience with that kind of grassroots work is that people are not informed by it in a way which results in them being more critical-thinking voters. Nor does it make any lasting change in their voting habits. And although Edanomel's story is probably apocryphal, as T.A. Barnhart also sadly demonstrated in a previous thread, to put it politely a lot of those doing that kind of work are not suited for the task, and probably do as much harm to their cause as good.

    In addition, it requires expending an infeasibly large amount of energy for relatively low productivity returns. Only in relatively extreme circumstances is the amount of energy available sufficient to bump up participation a few points. Given Oregon's demographics, as Gronke has pointed out, differential rates are what matters. By that measure, even your 2004 efforts seems that it may have been a failure in terms of convincing people under 45 to vote proportional to their numbers and poltical leanings, even if it did bump up turnout a few points.

    David English, Rafael -

    A good politician and representative is one who articulates a set of governing values that motivates people to vote for them, and then defends those values faithfully. That can mean working across the aisle in some circumstances, and not working across the aisle in others. (And in this context "moderate" tends to be one of those undefined terms that everyone lazily uses for their own purposes, but conveys no meaning). As Jenni has pointed out, without knowing the specifics of the education you experienced, it's probably not your fault that you haven't been educated to understand this because the baby-boom has done such a poor job of defending some notion of civics education in our schools, and defending public education in general. It is your fault, however, and your failure as a responsible citizen, if you continue to use it as an excuse to not participate.

  • jrw (unverified)

    (Did I end the italics? I tried...)

    So who killed off civics education in our schools?

    I'm in a rather unique position as a parent, teacher, and sometimes political activist. As a parent, I've been involved in both private and public school systems and I'll flat out say that both are to blame. When my son started going to school in the early 90s, civics education was gone, gone, gone. He got more of it from activist teachers in his public middle school and high school than his contemporaries in the private setting (I've compared notes). Then again, he's in a minority because his father and I talk politics and we've talked politics regularly with him. He was eager to vote and he's signed up to be a precinctperson.

    The death of civics instruction is a good one to get the history teacher at my middle school wound up, as someone who's been in the education business for a long time. Testing standards-based education dealt the death blow to teaching civics, even though social studies is among the last content areas to have testing developed for it.

    I think we also need to take a good hard look at society for this. During and after the Reagan/GHWBush years, it because a major social faux pas to discuss politics civilly in a mixed social setting, because it became impossible to civilly disagree with someone and still maintain friendships. At some point during the 80s and 90s, disagreeing politically on any issue meant that you could not maintain a social relationship without either exiling political discussion from your gatherings or limiting your social circle only to like-minded friends. The rise of rabid talk radio hosts and the modeling of uncivil, take-no-prisoners attack dialogue as entertainment meant that friendly argument went away in social circles. Without the ability to discuss, share ideas, and participate in give-and-take discussion, political involvement and interest became less important to people. I blame special-interest group politics for this, as issues became political organizing centers rather than candidates and government. I'm as guilty as any other activist in that era, since I did focus for a while on interest groups, although I also did balance that with party politics. Schismatic political organizing did not help, as well as having folks influenced by the DLC telling folks to the left of them that they might as well go ahead and leave the Party for the Pacific or Green or Citizen's parties, since they were gonna do that anyway (and yes, I was told this to my face).

    Additionally, the rise in power of our central government and the moving away from local control to more centralized state and federal control (example: the effect of Measure 5 on local school funding) left locals feeling like they had lost control and had very little influence on issues. Add in the controversies over the past two national elections, and you have a group of young and not-so-young people who feel they are unable to affect the system, so why bother?

    My middle school students have very strong left-of-center/anarchist/libertarian points of view. Unfortunately, they also feel powerless and feel that voting doesn't matter. My suspicion is that they reflect their parents' attitudes.

    Changing this attitude will be hard. It will be additionally hard because the current system is addicted to higher-level, centralized power--and both parties are guilty of this addiction, it's just skewed to whichever issues they apply this addiction to. Power needs to be returned to the people at the lower levels before we will get more involvement--and how to do that while still maintaining some of the good values we've developed will be a challenge.

  • LT (unverified)

    In Marion County, roughly half of the partisan voters and not quite 25% of the nonpartisan voters returned ballots if I read the Marion County results page accurately.

    In Marion County we had a state rep. primary (Lee defeated Keen). There was an unsuccessful attempt to dump a long time county judge. 3 women ran against each other for municipal judge. A very bright young woman named Laura Tesler who had lots of volunteers defeated an incumbent city council member.

    I wonder if as many voters under whatever age "vanished " in Marion County. I know there were young people active in some or all of the above campaigns.

    Perhaps someone can look at this on a county by county (or other jurisdiction) basis and see if the voting rate of any demographic is really the same all over the state.

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    Askquestions1st said:

    David English, Rafael -

    A good politician and representative is one who articulates a set of governing values that motivates people to vote for them, and then defends those values faithfully. That can mean working across the aisle in some circumstances, and not working across the aisle in others. (And in this context "moderate" tends to be one of those undefined terms that everyone lazily uses for their own purposes, but conveys no meaning). As Jenni has pointed out, without knowing the specifics of the education you experienced, it's probably not your fault that you haven't been educated to understand this because the baby-boom has done such a poor job of defending some notion of civics education in our schools, and defending public education in general. It is your fault, however, and your failure as a responsible citizen, if you continue to use it as an excuse to not participate.

    I think you have confused me for someone else with your statement. I always participate (although I have missed a one elections because I'm overseas and forgot to change my address). Maybe you need to go back and reread my post.

    Also no where did I defend public education. I did state that I thought civics should be taught again in our schools. My overall feeling is that there is a lot of apathy among younger voters given the partisanship and lack of a feeling that they can make a diffrence. Certainly teaching civics in school could be a starting point for making sure younger people vote when they become of age.

  • askquestion1st (unverified)

    David English -

    There was no confusion on my part:

    I was responding specifically to your comment that "The two things that I think play into the apathy of younger voters is the political bickering and polerization of the parties. It seems like there are very few moderate politicans, either your right or left" which is of a piece with Rafael's comment "A good politican in my view is one who works with both sides of the aisle. I rememeber that when I went to the US Senate Gallery this year very few senators from different parties talked to each other." The point is that, as Rafael demonstrates, criticizing partisanship is in fact an unacceptable excuse for not participating (as both you and Rafael offered it), and actually a misunderstanding of what political representation is all about (which is the clear theme of your comments). Do you accept that a credible civics program would in fact include positive comments about the salutory effects of partisanship under some circumstances?

  • rafael baptista (unverified)


    Yes partisanship is good in some doses. But there is a diffrence between partisanship and plain not talking to members of the other party. We now live in a place where republicans label democrats as cowards and unamericans whereas democrats call republicans closed minded war lovers. I think that we need elected officals to be more willing to work togather.


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    Do I think the extreme partisanship is a good excuse not to vote?

    Maybe, certainly I can't speak for those who feel that way. Also you can't force people to vote. Everyone has their own opinion and is duly entitled to it. Politicans can turn people off by their bickering and stupid antics.

    People should want to participate in terms of voting. I think reinstating civics in school would be a good idea. Good civic duty is not just about voting, but also volunteering to help good causes.

    Yes, teaching civics in school would have to include some partisanship to help students understand the diffrences in thought. I agree with Rafael that partisanship is good in doses, but when it goes to the furthest extremes it actually hurts not helps our democracy.

    I'm for debating issues in an open way, but it's sad to say that's not happening anymore. It's all a game of showmanship and partisan hackery these days. Maybe I'm cynical, but it's the way I see things.

    I've also had the chance to live in a foreign country (South Korea) and watch their political system at work. It's funny, because I see the same kind of flaws in their system as have appeared in ours. By living in Korea, I've also gained a better view point to see how other parts of the world view our nation. But that's a totally diffrent subject...

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    Where did we get the idea that civics education has disappeared from schools? Civics education is there, but the content is lousy. And I don't think school is the place where we're going to fix this problem--the roots lie much deeper, in families and in communities.

    If partisan battling is the problem, then we would have seen much lower turnout in the 1890s. Nor does the partisan battling account provide a reason for the age gap.

    Waiting to hear why Kari's "nothing to vote for" also applies differentially across age categories. Is it habituation overlaying interest? Yes, we'll see a rebound in 2008, but the age gap will remain.

  • LT (unverified)

    Is the "low turnout" figure statewide?

    If it is an average, that means some counties had higher turnout.

    Before making generalizations like "nothing to vote for", compare counties like Marion with hotly contested races against counties with few contested races other than Gov. The content of the Gov. campaign was not inspiring--see the article linked to the Gordly post for another point of view on that.

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    I was not aware civics was still taught in schools. When I was in school I honestly don't remember civics being taught. Maybe the content is terrible, I would be interested to hear from someone first hand how civics is being taught in school. I think teaching civics in school is important because it prepares children for becoming a responsible adult.

    In terms of other ways civics can be taught, family and communities can be a good way as well. Unfortuately, most people make the excuse they are too busy to volunteer or vote. Not a very good example for your children is it?

    I think your argument about voter turnout in the 1890's doesn't make sense. Partisanship has become worse and worse as the years have passed. Anyone that doesn't see that really needs some new glasses.

    Today I was reading this article in the Portland Tribune, where I found some agreement with my statement on partisanship:

    "When it comes to fixing democracy, Curtis Gans of the nonpartisan Center for the Study of the American Electorate, housed at American University in Washington, D.C., has spent his career studying the issue. He agrees that money in politics is part of the problem and, he says, so are the nastiness of campaigns and lack of ethics in leadership – as well as the declining quality of an increasingly conflict-oriented media. All of these things further the cycle of declining voter turnout, he says, which in turn leads to a lowering of the quality of debate."

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    I don't mean to be pedantic, but the current era of partisan polarization must be understood in its historical context. I refer to the 1890s because that is acknowledged by historians as one of the meanest, dirtiest, and most partisan eras in our history.

    But much more important than that is to understand the current era by comparing where we came from.

    After WWII, both parties found it in the national interst to suppress certain ideological differences in the interests of working to counter the Soviet Union. This is why, for instance, the Republicans supported large governmental programs in the 50s and 60s--primarily because they were sold as a way to out compete the Soviets.

    Second, the governing Democratic party was divided on race, and as long as they tried to straddle the issue, you had a significant segment of the party that voted more conservative than many members of the opposition party.

    All this broke down in the 1970s when sufficient numbers of liberal NE Democrats were elected to break the stranglehold that conservative southern Democrats had on the party.

    Over the next 20 years, the Democrats lost the South as previously conservative Democrats realigned with the Republicans, and the remaining Democrats in the South were far more liberal.

    Hence...partisan differences have gotten "worse." Or, as some argue, they are simply revealed today, whereas they were hidden previously.

    We all grew up in an era of reduced partisan differences that we seem to think is typical. It is not; it is atypical in American history, and I'm not sure it will ever return.

  • Gregor (unverified)

    Of course, it may be that not voting is related to the lack of voter assurances their votes count. The last two presidential elections were rip offs. There is plenty of proof for that. My favorite is simply how Zogby was always wrong whenever machines were used, and Bush always won. This is a statistical impossibility. My least favorite is the lack of voter machines in urban areas of Ohio. To me, Blackwell is worse then a criminal, yet his party celebrates him and puts him up for reelection.

    The issue of a lack of cross-party discussions is underscored by the silence of the phone line across the aisle in Congress. Literally, one party has not called the other for years now. And the way the Reich has squashed any voice by the Dems is atrocious, but now ithas practically become a sport for the Screachers: Limbaugh, O'Reilly and Hannity.

    Good news is the Screachers ratings are dropping. Bad news is, there still remains no good answer to them. Air America is trying. The Daily Show at least has the courage to ridicule the Reich, but admits there is no decent response to the Reich's spin. So we are left apathetic. Until we show some real progress in response to the thieves that have stolen the elections, led the country to war under false pretenses and imprisoned people without charges in camps around the world, I don't see why people would vote.

    For the record, I vote. I campaigned for Kerry and I have always stood up to the Reich's BS. But it takes courage and knowledge that one really must dig to obtain because the mainstream media has been cowering before the reich these past 6 years.

  • Kathleen (unverified)

    There was a "hotly contested" state-wide race on the May ballot AND since it was non-partisan, non-affiliated and minor party members could vote in it.

    We had an open Supreme Court seat (no incumbent running) on the ballot. There were three contestants. So why did this not draw a large number of voters?

    It the lack of civics lessons that means potential voters do not recognize how important this race is? (Several people that have posted here have mentioned the courts over-turning initiatives. The Oregon Supreme Court is the final authority on the constitutionality of laws).

    Or is it because there is little money spent and we are not bombarded with ads to make us aware of this being a "hotly contested" race?

    Or is it that there is very little media coverage (and could that be because there is little or no advertising revenue to be made)?

    Since no one got over 50% of the meager vote (600,590 ballots were cast for the position), you will get a second chance in November to vote for one of the two remaining candidates.

    I urge those who do vote to take a few minutes to look at the qualifications of those on the ballot. Don't just go with "name familiarity".

  • postcards (unverified)

    "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results."

    Maybe the younger voters see that's what the older voters are doing.

    As an older voter, I must have made over 100 contacts with candidates and parties just THIS ELECTION, begging them to make election reform their #1 priority. And chastising them for neglecting this for the past 5 years. But I've only gotten a response from 2 local candidates -- Amanda Fritz and Eric Sten!

    I'm a long time "member" of the Democratic National Committee -- which is pretty hollow, as all it does is send me pre-made questionnaires and guilt-tripping requests for money. No place for my own comments. I've sent many comments about Election Reform being shouted loud and clear, to Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean of the DNC. No response.

    Also to John Kerry, John Kerry's blog, and Al Gore. No response.

    I even spoke with the head of the Oregon Democratic Party, who picked up the phone because he thought I was somebody else! I begged HIM to make the efforts on election reform which he claimed the Party has a big committee working on, loud and public. That was two months ago -- anyone see any publicity on that? Of course not.

    Maybe the young voters have better things to do than vote -- or maybe they have other plans they are working on?

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