By Colleen Flaherty
Sunday, October 31, 2010
Obama's visit to "The Daily Show" was one sign of the sinking youth interest in the midterm elections. Another is what's going on at a political mentoring program for high school girls. In 2009 it received 30,000 applications. This year it was 1,000 at most.
(WOMENSENEWS)--In an effort to reach the young voters that rallied behind his campaign for change two years ago, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to appear on the parody news program "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" Oct. 27.
In the 2010 midterm elections, the enthusiasm of young voters pales in comparison to the 2008 campaign season.
Running Start is one more sign of that.
The nonpartisan Washington group, founded in 2007, runs five programs each year to get high school girls involved in politics.
After the 2008 election, the response was overwhelming. The group attracted 30,000 applications for 50 spaces in its July 2009 program, says Jessica Grounds, executive director and co-founder of the organization.
A year later?
"It was about 1,000 applications, if that," said Grounds.
Voter interest typically increases as Election Day draws closer, but a recent Harvard study shows younger voters defying that.
In October, 27 percent of Americans between 18 and 29 said they would definitely vote in the midterm elections, down from 36 percent last November.
Maegan Carberry, communications director of Rock the Vote, an organization dedicated to getting young people politically involved, says she's not surprised.
"The partisan bickering has definitely gotten to young voters," she said.
Carberry says candidates have a tendency during midterm elections to not campaign toward youth and focus on older, more dependable voters.
It seems to distance young women even more. Harvard's October survey found that 31 percent of young men and only 23 percent of women said they will definitely vote.
For the Republicans, however, Rob Lockwood, communications director for the College Republicans National Committee, says young support is growing. Lockwood said the group has recruited 25,200 new members in five target states--Ohio, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Florida--and 250,000 members nationwide.
Lockwood says there are several strong female candidates, such as gubernatorial candidates Nikki Haley and Susana Martinez, who are excellent role models for young conservative women.
"Now they have people they can look up to and aspire to be," said Lockwood.
Grounds, a former president of the Women Under Forty Political Action Committee, says it's important to draw younger women into politics.
"Most women tend to run for office as a third career. We need to change the dynamic. Let's show them it's possible to get involved when they're younger," Grounds said. Getting into politics earlier gives participants more time to gain recognition and acquire leadership roles.
Of the last 19 presidents, 12 began their political career before they were 35.
In the 110th Congress (2007-2009), a record number of women chaired House and Senate committees, states Running Start's Web site. But that only amounted to six chairs of roughly 40 committees.
Women currently account for 17 percent of Congress and 23 percent of state legislatures, according to the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.
Grounds shrugs off the loss of enthusiasm in young female voters this election year.
"We take the long approach at Running Start. We are investing in these young women," she said.
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Colleen Flaherty is a Women's eNews editorial intern and journalism major at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Survey of Young Americans' Attitudes Toward Politics and Public Service, Harvard University: