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Democracy dropouts

Young Americans are getting more apathetic about the democratic process, and adults are doing too little to reverse the troubling trend, a report by the National Association of Secretaries of State concludes.

Between 1972--when the voting age dropped to 18--and 1996, the percentage of voter turnout among 18- to 24-year-olds in presidential elections fell by 20 percentage points, to just 32 percent, the report released this month says.

It's not surprising, then, that young people take a dim view of government. By 64 percent to 35 percent, the teenagers and young adults polled for the report said that government was run by "a few big interests looking out for themselves."

"I'd give a grade of D to older adults ... who are not doing a good job when it comes to preparing and inspiring young Americans to be active, informed citizens," William Gardner, the president of the state officials' group, said.

The report commissioned by the Lexington, Ky.-based NASS was based on a telephone survey last November of 1,005 people ages 15 to 24, and six focus groups of young voters and nonvoters. The survey signals the start of the association's "New Millennium Project," a multiyear, national effort to re-engage young people in politics.

Election standout

Apathy doesn't reign everywhere, though.

Last fall in Alabama, more than 212,000 K-12 students in 67 counties participated in a student mock election for governor, making it the largest turnout for a mock election in any state, according to the NASS.

In recognition of the students' efforts, Alabama Secretary of State Jim Bennett received the Time Magazine/National Association of State Boards of Education Award at the winter meeting of the NASS in Washington this month.

Last October's mock election was organized by the Alabama PTA, the Citizenship Trust, the Alabama secretary of state's office, the Alabama Supreme Court Library, the governor's office, and the state legislature. The Citizenship Trust is a public education entity created by the Alabama legislature in 1995 to promote good citizenship.

Students chose Democrat Don Siegelman over incumbent Republican Gov. Fob James Jr. by 60 percent to 40 percent in the mock vote. In the actual election, Mr. Siegelman, then the lieutenant governor, defeated Mr. James by a similar count.

--Robert C. Johnston & Marnie Roberts

Vol. 18, Issue 24, Page 15

Published in Print: February 24, 1999, as State Journal

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