December 15, 2017

1970. Republicans and Democrats Hope to Attract the New Youth Vote

The New Bloc of Young Voters
Democratic presidential candidate Senator George McGovern introducing his running mate Sargent Shriver, August 9, 1972 (source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

August 22, 1970

Undoubtedly, the most intriguing political mystery of the generation is the so-called 18-year-old vote, which, if the courts don't close the door on it, will make its electoral clout felt for the first time in US history in the 1972 presidential contest.

Both the Republican and Democratic National Committees now are making elaborate plans to woo these newcomers to the political scene. And if anything it's certainly going to lend a more hip and swinging image to both national parties, whose directorates in the past have been dominated by the genial and loyal party hacks.

No one seems to know exactly, but by the time November 1972 rolls around it's estimated that between 11 to 12 million new potential voters between the ages of 18 and 21 will be on hand.

But will they vote? Some political pros say not very many. 18, 19, and 20-year-olds are much too wrapped up in their own affairs to take the trouble to register and go to the polls.

However, other experienced politicians, including such diverse personalities as Senators Barry Goldwater and Ted Kennedy, say this new crop of voters are more politically sophisticated and educated than any generation before them, and that they will use their franchise in such numbers that the so-called "youth vote" of under-30 citizens may well determine whether a Republican or a Democrat will be the next resident of the White House.

Senator Kennedy warned the other day that it would be a mistake to label the new youth bloc as "the student vote," for more than half of them will not be in colleges or universities—but holding down jobs as workingmen.

Out of an estimated 11 and a half million, about 5 million of the newly enfranchised will be in classrooms, about 900,000 in high schools, and the rest in college.

Just over 4 million of the potential new votes will have jobs. About one million will be housewives, and possibly 800,000 youths will be in the armed services.

How will the youth bloc vote, and which party will benefit most from lowering the voting age?

Senator Goldwater says recent GOP studies show that first-time voters tend to follow the political sentiments of their parents and family. He claims that there's a major trend toward political conservatism in the country—ergo, the Republicans stand the best chance of getting the youth vote.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Larry O'Brien, of course, disagrees. The new youth bloc will be feeling its political oats for the first time, and in their newfound independence and political power they will tend to kick the traces of parental politics and rebel against the entrenched administration, meaning the Democrats will prosper. What do you think?

The aristocratic German Chancellor Bismarck once remarked that "universal suffrage is the government of a house by its nursery." Bismarck was a man much respected by the Teuton princes and kaisers—and, of course, admired by Adolf Hitler.

Considering what such adults have done to this world, Bismarck and his successors should have spent more time in the nursery. In this country, it can only expand and enliven our democracy. So welcome...nursery vote.

This is Bill Downs in Washington with "The Shape of One Man's Opinion," a service of ABC News.