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Election Leaves Many Young People Flat, Spurs Get-Out-Vote Efforts

October 21, 1996

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (AP) _ Young people chat and sip gourmet coffee, drawn to an outdoor mall by a ``Rock the Vote″ benefit concert. But even here, cynicism and apathy about politics abound.

``I have a lot of things going on to be worrying about politics, quite frankly,″ says Jason Greenberg, a 19-year-old data entry clerk from Beverly Hills.

``There’s not an issue in this election that directly pertains to me,″ chimes in Bjarni Brown, 26, a Los Angeles publicist.

Lewis Foulke, 30, a Los Angeles art coordinator, didn’t even know the event had a political twist. ``I just came to see my friend’s band play,″ he said.

Twenty-five years after 18- to 20-year-olds won the right to vote, young people remain the least likely group to cast ballots. In 1992, 43 percent of Americans aged 18 to 24 voted, compared with 70 percent of those aged 45-64.

Bibi Bielat, 26, a music tour manager from Thousand Oaks, exemplifies the problem. ``Politics is a dud topic,″ says Bielat.

It’s just that attitude being targeted by youth advocacy groups that are developing an array of new means to cajole young people to the polls.

Some are tailored to children of the information age: They can obtain voter registration materials and information about candidates and issues through the World Wide Web.

A low-tech effort asks more politically active senior citizens to ``adopt″ their grandchildren by urging them to vote.

Another program asks young people to fill out pledge cards to be sent back to them later, reminding them to vote.

And Rock the Vote, the nonpartisan group that works to mobilize younger voters, is taking its campaign where young people really live: MTV, radio and concerts.

This will also be the first presidential election in which the ``motor voter″ law is felt. The law requires all states to offer voter registration through state agencies such as motor vehicle offices.

About 12 million people will have registered under motor voter by Election Day, according to Human SERVE, a national voter registration group. Roughly half of them will be 18-24, said Human SERVE co-director Frances Piven.

Even if turnout is about the same as 1992, young people would account for one in five votes. And what do these young people want?

Just as they preferred Bill Clinton in the 1992 election, young people are favoring Clinton this time around, polls indicate. But their sentiments are volatile.

Political analysts point out that roughly 40 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds identify themselves as independent.

One survey of 18- to 29-year-old voters late last month had Clinton ahead of Bob Dole 47-43 percent; a week earlier, Clinton was ahead by 16 points among the same age group.

Clinton redefined political youth outreach in 1992 by donning sunglasses and blowing a saxophone on late-night TV. He was the overwhelming favorite in a straw poll at the recent Rock the Vote event.

``For Dole to reach out to the younger generation takes a hell of a lot more than Clinton because of the age factor,″ said David Witting, 25, a movie studio production manager who attended the benefit.

But Dole, 73, does not necessarily suffer with young voters because of his age. Under-30 voters care about his age less than do other age groups, according to a CBS News poll.

Asked in interviews what their top concerns are, many listed abortion, the environment, welfare, immigration and education. The deficit and unemployment also rank high in polls of young people.

Hillary Rodham Clinton told the Rock the Vote crowd that ``young people have more at stake in every election than many of them recognize.″

The loudspeaker blared David Bowie’s ``Young American″ as she strode away from the podium. At 6 1/2 minutes, her speech was slightly longer than the average music video.

Down the street at the Union bar, Melissa Mason, 25, wasn’t terribly concerned that she had missed the first lady.

``It’s so sad, but I’m not paying attention this year,″ she said.

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