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Friday, July 21, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ryan Blethen / Times editorial columnist

Parties try to get jiggy with young voters

Republicans and Democrats have begun an awkward courtship of the young voter. A big November election and an emerging large voting bloc have a way of forcing the parties to peek out of the partisan tent.

Generation Y, DotNets, Millennials, Echo Boomers — or whatever name marketers and sociologists have slapped on people younger than 30 — have become a hot target for politicians, because there are a bunch of them.

Get voters young, preferably three elections in a row, and you have a party loyalist for life, so the theory goes. Their sheer numbers also offset the chronic voter abstention we small-in-number Gen-Xers seem to have carried into our 30s and 40s.

The parties are encouraged by an upward trend of young voters since the 1990s. In 2004, 49 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds voted, a 9-percent increase from 2000, according to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

It will not be for a lack of effort by Democrats and Republicans if young voters do not continue the positive trend this year. A flurry of polls released this spring and summer tout the potential electoral jackpot of folks younger than 30.

"Based on the uptick in voter turnout among DotNets in 2004, their relatively high levels of civic engagement, and their willingness to express their opinions to political leaders, the media and their peers, this cohort of Americans is not likely to be a silent generation," said Scott Keeter, in the same Pew report.

What will the message be and how will it be delivered now that the parties have established that Ecgenydotials are worth the time? This is where the parties come off as the parent trying to figure out what is cool, only to come off as anything but.

Two briefings produced by Democratic and Republican pollsters and put out by Young Voter Strategies are a great example of political parent-ism: chock-full of statistics, and different rosy interpretations on the same numbers. To be fair, party strategists are the target, not young voters. One can easily imagine how the Democratic and Republican national committees will push gas prices, health care and college affordability, the topics that polled important to this age group.

18to35, another organization focused on younger voters, has put out The 18-30 VIP. (For aged readers 31 and up, VIP stands for Voter Issues Paper.) In an effort to appeal to the demographic, the VIP is promoted with pictures of enthusiastic 18-to-30-year-olds flanked by big-time wrestlers. (Is big-time wrestling still in? Seems so sixth grade to me.)

Regardless of the tortured delivery mechanism, the VIP lists five good questions — on the economy, Iraq and national security, education, health care and Social Security — one can put forth to candidates.

Taken together, what Pew, Young Voter Strategies and 18to35 have found important give a more complete idea of what politicians are faced with when approaching younger voters: many of the same things voters of all ages are worried about.

This information is useful, but there have to be other issues younger voters believe important. Some of this 33-year-old's top concerns — international relations, media consolidation, First Amendment issues, technological and government interface (like Internet network neutrality) and the creation of a viable third party — have not been mentioned.

I want to know what issues drive the 18-to-35 set. How can politicians best target you? Send me your thoughts, and please register to vote if you have not done so.

Ryan Blethen's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is rblethen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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