New generation heads out to vote in primaries
Polk County Enterprise - March 2008
By Valerie Reddell, Editor
My younger daughter and two of her cousins will be heading to the polls to cast their first ballots in this historic presidential election and apparently most of their friends are going too. My own personal exit poll indicates there is no clear winner for president among these first-time voters any more than their older counterparts.
I’m just happy to see the level of interest among these new adults. Political pollster John Zogby is estimating that 20 percent of the turnout in the November general election will be voters under 30. That will be a refreshing change. I’ve addressed low voter turnout in this space before, but early voting in both the Democratic and Republican primaries show that this year should buck the trend. Through the end of the day Wed nesday, 862 Polk County voters had cast ballots in person and 1,467 mail ballots had been received in the Republican Primary and 782 for the Democrats.
That preliminary total — and the voters continued to roll in Thursday and Friday — is 32 percent of the total turnout for the 2004 primaries. This crop of new voters — the youngest of whom was born in 1990 — are far more concerned about terrorism and the environment that their predecessors. Even the most politically conservative of this younger group are truly worried about the safety of the air they will breathe and the water they will drink as senior citizens. Many of the estimated 26 million first-time voters this year have already buried friends who lost their lives in the War on Terror or had to say goodbye to one or both parents leaving home for a tour of duty in the Middle East.
The Millienials are more committed to community service, so even those who grew up in white, affluent households are more likely to have seen poverty first-hand through work at food banks, homeless shelters, refuges for victims of domestic violence or projects like Habitat for Humanity. If you are skeptical that Polk County youth follow that trend, check out the ages of the participants in one of the largest community events, Relay For Life. There’s a large contingent of the under 25 population that can brag they have been all-night participants every year. Their concerns are vastly different from Generation X who came of age in 1970 chiefly concerned about nuclear war.
This month at the University of Texas at Austin, 18,000 students entered a lottery for 400 tickets to attend the debate between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. Since the venue was so small, the university’s student government and campus newspaper submitted a list of over 100 questions to CNN. The topics ranged from the AIDS epidemic in Africa, sex education in public schools, to college education for undocumented high school graduates as well as the full gamut of environmental issues. Pretty thought-provoking issues coming from the group of citizens that older members of the community tend to dismiss. Most voters, young and old, remain unclear on what each of the presidential candidates can or will do about the health care crisis, but these youngsters have a clearer picture of the problem than many older voters.
A letter from one Polk County resident crossed my desk this week that was unprintable, but did raise the question of who was being hurt by a lack of access to health insurance. The letter writer suggested these uninsured were people who had put themselves in a health care predicament by contracting AIDS or some “sinful” behavior. That has to be the single most frightening opinion I’ve heard during this election season.
Just a little research will show you the uninsured are our self-employed plumbers, electricians and farmers. They’re the people who work for small businesses who can’t afford to offer group health insurance. It’s the backbone of our community than has no health insurance. Stop in any day care center in Livingston and you’ll find young mothers whose entire paycheck goes to health insurance and child care costs.
This out-of-touch letter writer also claimed that poor people had full access to health care. I suggest those who believe that make a few phone calls and find out how many primary care doctors accept Medicaid. Providers collect an average of 30 cents on the dollar from billling private insurance.
According to physician’s groups, they recoup 20 to 40 percent below costs on Medicaid. This group of first-time voters is inheriting a host of problems. They probably don’t have all the answers yet, but they plan on being heard.