Youth voting groups are trying to turn around a perception recently shown by the Pew Research Center that young voters are apathetic about this election cycle.
In late September, a Pew study found voters between 18 and 29 to be much less engaged in the 2012 elections than in recent years.
While those 65 and older saw no drop in their election engagement from 2008, youth voters dropped 14 percent in engagement. The two other age groups in between saw smaller drops, contributing to an overall drop in engagement of 6 percent.
The number of young adults who were sure they were registered to vote dropped from 61 percent in 2008 to 50 percent when the poll was taken. Of the registered voters polled, 63 percent said they would definitely vote, a nine-point drop from 2008.
University of Wisconsin College Republicans Chair Jeff Snow said his group has been registering voters and getting students involved in canvasses and events across campus.
Snow said the Pew study does not match with the growing support of his group, which doubled the amount of students at its kick-off meeting this year. Recent events such as a debate-watching party or Tagg Romney – the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s son – coming to State Street Brats have been well attended.
“We have a significant amount of active members that go and volunteer for Romney in the local victory center, and we have had large crowds at all of our events,” Snow said. “Pew might have said that youth enthusiasm is down overall, but we have a lot of enthusiasm from our organization.”
Snow contrasted this enthusiasm for Romney with students unhappy with their employment prospects under Obama’s economy.
Students for Obama Chair Peter Anich said while Snow frequently talks about students’ dislike for Obama, the president’s Thursday campaign rally on campus shows that is not the case.
With more than 30,000 attendees, it is the largest campaign rally this election cycle has seen so far. According to Anich, about 200 volunteers collected thousands of voter registration forms from the people in line.
Along with youth voters knowing Romney is on the “wrong side of history” on many issues, Anich said Wisconsinites have not been strangers to elections lately. These things have prevented the enthusiasm gap from taking place in Madison, he said.
Anich said his group focuses much of their efforts on registering voters, as some students might be confused about election laws, especially with the moving around students do.
“That is essentially our biggest job – informing them they don’t need their voter ID or they need to register every time they move,” he said.
Among the events Students for Obama will be holding in the future are drives for early voting, which begins Oct. 22.
Obama’s 2008 “hope and change” theme was popular among youth, UW-Milwaukee political science professor Kathleen Dolan said. As that message has largely faded away in this election, she added, young voters are now reverting back to their normal rates of engagement, which could be a factor in the Pew results.
Dolan emphasized that young voters do not consist solely of college students so campaigns also need to reach those outside of college campuses.
“Higher education issues are real and important to the people that go to college, but not everybody goes to college, and more people don’t finish college than do,” she said. “Mobilizing is the most effective way to reach that group. Having said that, campaigns tend to do most of their mobilizing on college campuses so that’s part of the challenge.”
In order to reach voters outside of college campuses, Dolan said campaigns need to set up voter registration drives in malls or grocery stores and use social media.
Rock the Vote, a nonpartisan organization aimed at improving youth participation, has been using the Internet to accomplish its goal, spokesperson Chrissy Faessen said.
“We definitely do work on college campuses, but that isn’t all we do,” Faessen said. “We reach out to [young voters] through social media, mobile and other effective means of communication to get them registered to vote.”