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Not that long ago, in retrospect, the age to vote in America was 21. In 1971, after considerable debate, the Twenty-Sixth Amendment was passed, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. It only seemed fair and ethical, since 18 year olds were being drafted into the Military to fight in Vietnam, yet couldn’t vote to end it. So before 1971 it was okay to die for your country, but not to have a say in it.
So 1972 marked the first Presidential election year that the Youth of America, now voting age, could potentially change our history by heading to the polls.
And by all indications, from the flood of new voters registering all over the country, 1972 was going to be watershed year in politics – and it was predicted that Democratic candidate George McGovern would sweep the country.
It was quickly discovered that, rallies, voter registration drives and canvassing precincts may be laudable activities for this new-found reservoir of constituents, but it was a matter of actually getting them to the polls that was the greatest concern. Many feared, justifiably, that underneath the activism was a great apathy – and that what looked impressive and downright scary to political opponents would quickly prove otherwise when the much hoped-for tsunami of The Youth Vote didn’t materialize.
1972 proved that point. For all the activism and enthusiasm, it didn’t translate to victories and this has been an issue in political campaigns ever since and an issue that pundits repeatedly wrestle with and engage in heated discussions over.
1972 signaled a new era in our political history – it had huge potential to sway elections in one direction or the other – and since the 18-21 demographic was increasing daily, it would be only a matter of time before the Youth Vote would become the predominant voice in Politics.
Even today, the 18-21 demographic is large and growing and has the potential to influence elections all over the country. But the promise hasn’t materialized since it was first introduced in 1971. The lessons from the past keep popping up, and as much as candidates want to rely on the under-21 vote to rise up and foment change, it has yet to happen. Will it ever happen? It’s hard to say – you would think Social Media would have a sure and accurate finger on the issue to predict with a goodly amount of accuracy if the election was had on their terms or not.
So – to give you some idea that this issue is far from new, and it’s been a major concern for all political parties, here is a half-hour program, first aired on August 31, 1972 over NET, the Public Broadcast channel pre-PBS.
And who says history doesn’t repeat and repeat often?