By KATHERINE PFLEGER
WASHINGTON – Arie Deutsch says he’s too lazy to get his absentee ballot from New York, so he won’t be exercising his right to vote.
“It’s not worth the effort,” the 20-year-old sophomore at George Washington University said, puffing on a cigarette and soaking in the sun. “They’re not talking to my voting age. Seniors’ issues, health care, taxes. Students don’t pay attention to taxes because they don’t pay that much in taxes.”
In this year’s close race for the presidency, Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore have an uphill battle if they hope to lure young voters to the polls.
Since the 1960s, the percentage of people 18 to 24 who vote has been declining. In 1964, almost 51 percent of young voters turned out, according to the Census Bureau. In 1996, just under one-third.
Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, has an even lower estimate. He figures only 28 percent of young people voted in 1996, and this year will be even lower.
“There is no sign of young people’s interest,” Gans said. “This generation is into making their own lives better, and that is not consistent to participation.”
Analysts say this generation lacks an issue to impassion young voters, such as the Vietnam War. Social Security and Medicare are hardly the fodder for lively debate, let alone a campus protest.
And third party candidates probably won’t enliven young voters, as Reform Party candidate Ross Perot did in 1992, said David Rohde, political scientist at Michigan State University.
“The candidates are paying attention (to young voters) at least to the degree that they’d like to turn out the folks who are inclined to support them,” he said. “The reality is young people don’t turn out.”
In the last presidential debate, a professor asked the candidates how they address youth apathy when the issues of the day – Medicare, Social Security or prescription drugs – aren’t directed at young voters.
Gore responded with an answer about campaign finance reform, health care and renewable fuels. Bush commented on Medicare, tax cuts and honesty.
Jehmu Greene, spokeswoman for the registration drive Rock the Vote, said the candidates’ substance – not style – is the problem.
“It’s less about acting hip and trying to come down to the level of young people and more about trying to talk directly to them and having their stances relate to young people,” Greene said.
As she has traveled around the country, Greene has found education is the number one issue on young people’s minds. They also care about health care, racial profiling and abortion.
“They are very active in the causes the care about, but they just don’t see that politics has an effect,” Greene said.
The campaigns have tried to counter that by dispatching young family members to seek youth support.
George P. Bush – one of People Magazine’s 100 most eligible bachelors – made the rounds for his Uncle George before hitting the books at the University of Texas Law School this fall.
The son of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his Mexican-born wife Columba, George P. often speaks of the Republican Party’s inclusiveness. In recent days, he has re-emerged as a youthful face of the campaign, appearing in a new Spanish ad.
“Su nombre?” 24-year-old George P. asks. “Igual que mio, George Bush.” (Translation: “His name? The same as mine, George Bush.”)
Bush campaign spokesman Tucker Eskew said young voters want what Bush offers: personal retirement accounts, education reforms and an honest candidate.
During the past month, Gore has lost his 8-point edge over Bush among voters under 30, according to the Pew Research Center for the People &the Press. The candidates are in a statistical tie.
Karenna Gore Schiff – head of Gorenet, a grass-roots effort to woo young people – said, “My father has shown he is definitely committed to a dialogue with young people.”
“Young people tend to be even more idealistic and are more reluctant to engage in an imperfect political system,” said Schiff, 27, a recent law school grad and mom. “We are sick of spin and image and being talked down to. No one wants to be suckered.”
Alex Gianturco, 22 and an “agonized undecided,” said he’s facing a choice between “stupidity and soulless evil.”
“On the one hand Bush is genuine. You can tell he’s a real person, a real stupid person,” Gianturco said. “But voting for Gore seems tainted. He says whatever he thinks will come off best.”
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