Home > News > Hoisted from Comments: Chris Kennedy v. Matt Jarvis on the Impact of the Youth Vote
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Hoisted from Comments: Chris Kennedy v. Matt Jarvis on the Impact of the Youth Vote

- February 5, 2008

Several days ago, I posted a brief item about the impact of the youth vote in the 2008 election. Matt Jarvis then posted a comment, to which Chris Kennedy posted a reply, to which Matt Jarvis has now posted a rejoinder. Because much of this exchange occurred several days ago and is buried far below, the chances that you would come across it on your own are minimal. Thus I’m hoisting it up to the the present day. As you’ll see beneath the fold, the exchange gets a bit, well, testy, but I think it contains a sufficient light-to-heat ratio to warrant attention.

If the exchange continues, it’ll be appended to this post, so you might want to stay tuned for updates. On the other hand, if it seems to have reached a point of diminishing returns or if the tone of the exchange degenerates from testy to downright nasty, I’ll call a halt.

Here’s my original post:

bq. In the run-up to every recent presidential election, we’ve been told that this time young voters are really going to make a difference. I’m not sure they ever do, but I confess that I haven’t followed the research on this issue closely at all. Maybe lots of convincing evidence has piled up that I just don’t know about. If so, I’m hoping that some well informed readers of “The Monkey Cage” will give the rest of us a sense of what it says.

bq. In the meantime, here is something to jump-start a conversation about the youth vote this time around.

And here’s Matt Jarvis’s comment:

bq. The little factoid I always like to share with my students when they say the youth vote is going to determine something is the simple stats:

bq. People aged 20-24 make up 6.7% of the population. Want to go to 29? 13.6% of the population. Even if youth voted at a much higher rate than they do now, they’re still less than 1/7th (by a generous measure) of the population! (And the ratio of the young to the rest of us is, in fact, shrinking!)

bq. So, before we start calculating turnout %s, you start with the base number of young people: there simply aren’t that many of them. Combine that with the work Paul notes, and bascially you’re talking about a “group” (I use quotes because its membership changes over time by definition) that is shrinking in the population, and increases in their low turnout rate have to first replace the fact that there are fewer youth relative to the population before they can actually increase the very small share of the electorate they comprise.

And here’s Chris Kennedy’s reply:

bq. Matt,

bq. As long as you intend to use your position as an authority figure to belittle young voters, which is quite an honorable cause by the way, you can at least take the time to do accurate computations. 18-29 year olds comprise 20% of the eligible voting population using data from the March 2007 Census. Your 1/7th figure doesn’t look so generous any more, does it.

bq. What would you say is a “large” fraction of the US electorate… 50%, 90%? I will also note that you are implicitly adopting a right-wing frame: blaming young people for their (assumed) lack of participation rather than, or in addition to, well-known institutional barriers such as registration deadlines & latent residential mobility, voter identification laws (see Alvarez 2007), discrimination at the polls, and self-perpetuating inattention from political parties and campaigns.

And here’s Matt Jarvis’s rejoinder:

bq. Chris,

bq. Thank you for impugning my integrity and motives.

bq. You are correct that I used the VAP numbers and not the VEP numbers (I think the numbers I used were from the 2000 census, and I didn’t do that much digging–these were simple toplines). I note that your number also includes 18-19 year olds, which my number had not. In making a simple comment on a blog, I had simply gone with readily available data. VEP is generally the more accurate number to use for this type of question; I spent only a couple of minutes on the census’ web site looking for an easy statistic. For this simple oversight, I apologize if I somehow offended you.

bq. As for the “generosity” of the measure, that depends on the underlying concept we’re talking about. What does it mean to be a “youth” voter? I normally think of the term as meaning 18-25 year olds. On the census site I was looking at, it only had the 5 year ranges, so I went with what I had: 20-25 year olds. Thus, when I said the “generous” measure, I meant that in the context of how the question of “youth” vote is often put to me: will college students matter? Thus, I meant that the 18-25 year old population is not as large a population as, let’s say, women, Californians, Latinos, Independent voters, or the “elderly” (as that term often means “anyone over 65” to people..the census on its page on age data uses the same definition). If your definition of “youth” includes those from 26-29 as well, it naturally goes up.

bq. I’m at a loss to see how I’m “adopting a right-wing frame”, “belittling” or “blaming” anyone. I simply noted that the proportion of the US population (VAP, again) that is 20-29 years old (same data source) was smaller in 2000 than in 1990. If you want to use the more accurate VEP, the youth share, by either the more restrictive definition I used or the more generous 18-29, has steadily declined for decades. 18-29 year olds made up 29% of VEP in 1972, and 20% now. So, it stands to reason that for youth voters to make up a larger proportion of voters than they have previously, turnout amongst the youth must make up for this demographic loss. This is a simple consequence of the aging US population. Demographics end up mattering a great deal.

bq. For example, between 1988 and 1992, youth turnout jumped: according to CIRCLE, collecting CPS data, youth turnout (18-24 year olds) was 39.9% in 1988 and 48.6% in 1992. That’s a big jump, not quite as big as 2004/2000, but substantial nonetheless. However, at the same time, the number of youth shrank (in absolute terms). Consequently, the youth vote as a percentage of the total vote only went from 9.1% in 1988 to 9.2% in 1992. (The numbers are slightly more favorable for the 2000/2004 comparison)

bq. I’ve reread my post, and I can’t find anything in it that says anything about WHY young people have lower turnout than older people. I simply referred to Paul’s [ Paul Gronke’s} post and that work. Thus, I didn’t “blame” anyone.

bq. As a general note, Chris, you get more flies with honey than with vinegar. In your post, you might note that you insult me no less than twice (three times, if I choose to be insulted by the “right-wing frame” comment). I will concede that my original comment had some sarcasm to it, but all it said was that the youth population is not particularly large and has been shrinking as a proportion of the US population for a long time.