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Young-voter registrations rise in battleground states

by MICHAEL TACKETTand RACHEL SHOREY The New York Times | May 21, 2018 at 2:28 a.m. | Updated May 21, 2018 at 2:28 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- The pace of new voter registrations among young people in crucial states is accelerating, a signal that the anger and political organizing after this year's school shootings may prove to be more than ephemeral displays of activism.

"The shooting at the Parkland [Fla.] high school was the tipping point for these kids," said Christine Matthews, a Republican pollster. "The bravery and activism of the Parkland kids ignited their peers across the country, and these newly minted 18-year-old voters are already motivated. [Friday's] school shooting in Texas surely adds to their resolve but, honestly, they didn't need any more motivation."

Voter data for March and April show that young registrants represented a higher portion of new voters in Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, among other states. In Florida, voters younger than 26 jumped from less than 20 percent of new registrants in January and February to nearly 30 percent by March, the month of the gun control rallies. That ticked down to about 25 percent in April, as the demonstrations subsided, but registration of young voters remained above the pace set before 17 students and faculty were killed in February at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

In North Carolina, voters younger than 25 represented around 30 percent of new registrations in January and February; in March and April, they were around 40 percent.

In Pennsylvania, voter registrations across age groups increased sharply in March and April before the primary last week, but registrations of young voters increased the fastest, jumping to 45 percent in March and more than half in April, from fewer than 40 percent of voters in January and February.

The trend was particularly stark in Broward County, site of the mass shooting in Parkland -- and where more than a thousand young people were added to voter rolls in the week leading to the student-led March for Our Lives protests in March. Young voters represented only 16 percent of new registrants in January and February. In March, that number jumped to 46 percent, before slipping back to 25 percent in April.

Registrations among other groups remained relatively constant during the same period, in Broward and in Florida generally, according to data provided by the Florida Department of State Division of Elections.

Of the new voters ages 25 and younger in the state, a third registered as Democrats; 21 percent signed up as Republicans; and 46 percent registered as either unaffiliated or with another political party. For new registrants older than 25, 27 percent were Democrats; 29 percent were Republicans; and 44 percent were independent or affiliated with a different party.

New polling of younger voters from the Harvard Kennedy School's Institute of Politics found a significant jump from two years ago in those who say their involvement will make a difference.

"What I have seen is what I am calling a once-in-a-generation attitudinal shift about the efficacy of participating in the political process," said John Della Volpe, director of the institute, who has specialized in polling younger voters for nearly two decades. "I am optimistic that the increasing interest we have tracked in politics will likely lead to increased participation in the midterms."

The combination of registration data, the Harvard survey and the firepower of the independent groups suggest that younger voters, who typically do not turn out for midterms in great numbers, just might show up at the polls in November.

Others are skeptical. According to research by Michael McDonald of the United States Elections Project, only about 20 percent of voters younger than 30 cast ballots in midterm elections. Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster, is not betting that this year will be much different.

"Bottom line is that so far we are not seeing any higher level of self-described interest in the election among voters 18 to 34 years old than in past off-year elections," he said.

Comparison of voter registration numbers can be fraught. Fluctuations often represent changes in the law or the registration process as much as changes in voter enthusiasm. For example, some states, like California, have made mechanical changes to the registration process that make it easier to sign up to vote.

Such changes do not necessarily translate into votes on Election Day.

So far, the Harvard polling indicates that Democrats are the more likely beneficiary of the increased commitment to voting, with half of voters 18 to 29 saying they will vote Democratic. The remainder are divided between Republicans and independents.

"Also, just the sheer number of individuals who say they will definitely vote, 37 percent, is as high as it's ever been," Della Volpe said. "That's likely to only grow stronger. The number among Democrats is 51 percent saying they will definitely vote."

Younger voters were not moved by either President Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, but they have been moved "in more powerful ways in the last two months, post-Parkland shooting," Della Volpe said.

The deaths in Santa Fe, Texas, may only add more fuel.

"We are fighting for you," David Hogg, a Parkland survivor and organizer, declared hours after the shooting at Santa Fe High School.

A Section on 05/21/2018

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