Click on the link here for Audio Player – Walter Cronkite News and Analysis – October 24, 1979 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection
When the 26th Amendment to the Constitution went into effect in July of 1971, everyone thought the flood gates of the new voter bloc would open and the landscape of our political scene would change forever.
Well. The Presidential election of 1972 arrived and the expected Youth onslaught didn’t materialize. In 1976 it was pretty much the same.
In 1979, with the 1980 Presidential election just around the corner, questions started to raise over whether or not this Youth Vote was a myth and the Under-21 voters really didn’t care all that much about politics, or elections, or voting in them.
And a few alarming statistics began to surface. The Youth Vote was a surprisingly uninformed, and the enthusiasm towards our political system was dropping precipitously. In 1972 58% of eligible 18 year olds voted. By 1976 it dropped to 47%. In the 1978 off-year elections the figure dropped to 35%. Worse were the recently published statistics about the potential American vote. In 1979 there were some 18-24 million illiterates among American adults. The study went on to say some 30% of American adults had serious reading problems or lacked the literacy necessary to function adequately in modern society; one out of every three U.S. citizens of voting age.
The findings cast a horrific shadow on just how much trouble our electoral system was in. Bear in mind, this was 1979 – the kids who turned 18 in 1972 are turning 60 this year. Another alarming statistic was the fact that, in 1979 fully half the students in New York City schools wouldn’t graduate; some 40,000 dropouts per year.
Scary stuff, to be sure. And has it changed?
Beyond the failure of the educational system in 1979, there was also the creeping cynicism which took over American Youth in the 1970s. There was Vietnam, Kent State, Watergate and a bleak economy. The job market was failing and once thriving industries all over America were shutting and laying off workers in the thousands.
And 40 years later, is it any different? Is it worse? Has the focus changed? Is the Youth Vote still a myth?
I guess we’ll find out in two weeks, when the mid-term elections arrive.