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To be young and voting

It looks as if the youth vote is set to increase again – a welcome sign of civic health.

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The excitement started to bubble up a couple of election cycles ago. In 2004, the youth vote spiked dramatically upward. In 2006, it increased again. All signs point to another rise in November. It looks as if America has itself a healthy civic trend going on.

It's tough motivating young Americans to exercise their ballot-box rights. Today's young people reach out to their communities by volunteering and fundraising for charities at rates similar to their older cohorts. But historically, young people lag way behind as voters. With one other big exception (1992), the general trend of the youth vote has been down or flat since 1972, when the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18.

Harvard University's Institute of Politics goes so far as to call the increased participation "the civic reawakening of a new generation."

The youth vote (18-to-29-year-olds) quadrupled in this year's Tennessee primary. It approximately tripled in primary and caucus contests in Iowa, Georgia, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas, according to the institute's latest survey, taken in March.

What's partly switched them on, explains the Harvard survey, are the past two razor-thin national elections, a new sense of the import of politics since 9/11, weighty issues, and Internet campaigning.

In the competition between Democratic hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, age is the single most determining predictor of voter preference (other than whether one is African-American or not). Seventy percent of young voters back Mr. Obama and his message of change; 30 percent are for Mrs. Clinton and her emphasis on experience.

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