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Can youth sustain election enthusiasm?
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There is no doubt that Georgia’s youth are more involved in this year’s presidential race than in elections past.

Three times as many of Georgia’s young voters made it to the polls during February’s presidential primary than voted in the 2000 primary, according to research from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, a group based in the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy.

The question remains to be seen, however, if that same election enthusiasm that voters ages 18 to 29 had in February will survive until November.

Now that the race has been narrowed to two main candidates, some young voters are learning for the first time that you can’t always get what you want on the ballot.

Many of the young voters who spoke to The Times before Super Tuesday will not have the chance to vote for their first choice for president in November.

"Now that we’re down to two candidates, there’s less to choose from," said Daniel Doss, a 22-year-old student of political science at the University of Georgia. "Maybe a bit of the excitement has gone, too, because you have to compromise."

Martin Erbele, vice president of the Young Democrats at North Georgia College and State University, has had to compromise since his previously preferred candidate, Sen. Hillary Clinton, dropped out of the presidential race, and he has decided to vote for Sen. Barack Obama.

Although he prefers Obama to Sen. John McCain, "I’ve had to accept that some of her ideals will not be with Obama" Erbele said.

Meri Jordan, a 19-year-old member of the Politically Incorrect club at Gainesville State College, once said she loved the idea of a Fred Thompson ticket, but is content that McCain was picked to represent the Republican Party.

When Fred Thompson dropped out of the race before Georgians had a chance to go to the polls, Jordan decided to vote for McCain, who held some of her same beliefs that individual states should decide the legality of abortion and same-sex marriages.

"(McCain) was more liberal and open-minded when it came to gay marriage and abortion, and the other candidates were for (constitutional amendments banning gay marriage and abortion), I just don’t think that’s a good idea," she said.

Yet, Jordan admits that she cannot completely identify with the Republican candidate.

"I’m not really sure about those other more liberal tendencies of his, though."

Despite not having the chance to vote for their first-choice candidates in November, these three young voters say their excitement for the election has not waned in the least.

"I’m more excited, because it’s getting closer, and it’s my first presidential election," Jordan said.

Jessica Alexander, a 20-year-old mass communications student at Brenau University, said political excitement among younger voters is escalating, because of the opportunity to be involved in a landmark decision that could ring in the nation’s first minority president.

"This is the time of big social change, and it can be seen at even the highest levels of government," Alexander said. "The youth see that all the things people fought for in the 60’s is coming to fruition on the larger scale."

Some think young voters are involved in the election this year, because of the candidates’ use of technology. Doss lauds Obama for catering to the way younger voters communicate, sending out the announcement of his vice presidential nomination through text messages, and says the presidential candidate is making the election more accessible to the younger demographic.

"He’s getting us connected. He’s using the resources that we use," Doss said.

Even sans Obama text messages, today’s technology has resulted in a more informed youth, and a more informed youth voting bloc is more likely to show up at the polls, Doss said.

"The sheer freedom of the internet, we can get news from multiple sources and fact check," Doss said. "The resource that we have allows us to be more educated, and because we’re becoming more educated, we’re going to turn out more, because we know it makes a difference."

Still, others say its the issues that are making more young people interested in this year’s election.

"In years’ past, there haven’t been major problems that have been facing our country," Erbele said. "Now, at this day and age, we’re dealing with a world that ... you’re lucky if you get that raise, despite the fact inflation’s going up."

The economy and the war in Iraq are the two issues that most concern voters between the ages of 17 and 24, according to the University of Maryland’s research.

To Doss, the economy is the biggest issue that affects college-aged voters this year. The dollar’s decline in value is disconcerting, he says.

Erbele explains the impact of the economy on younger voters a little more simply.

"We’re college students. We live off dollar menus at fast food restaurants, and it’s things like the price of gas and the price of food that hit college students, that hit people everyday ... It’s the jobs for all of us college students to find — it’s the issues like that, they hit myself and they hit Americans of all walks of life."

Although Jordan says the economy is not the issue most important to her — "I think it’s a self-regulated system," she says — she knows that it is one of the issues most important to her peers.

But the war affects young voters more than ever, and national security is the biggest issue in this election, Jordan said.

"We’re at the age where it’s our friends that are over there," she said.

Yet, no matter the issues or the accessibility of this year’s election, these young voters acknowledge that there are still those in their age group who will not be involved at all in this year’s presidential decision.

Jordan says she knows just as many people who are apathetic to the presidential race as she knows that are political zealots. Alexander sees apathy, too, but is determined that this election is different from the rest of those in which many young voters never made it to the polls.

"I still see a lot of apathy, but I think the closer we get to the election the less apathy there will be," Alexander said.

And the issues surrounding this election could change the way young voters think about their civic duties from now on.

Even after this election and the issues associated with it are in the past, Erbele says he will still find a reason to make his way to the polls.

"That’s my tentative goal: One, to have a reason to vote ... and to vote in every election," he said.


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