RICHMOND — Virginia’s pool of registered voters is getting younger.
According to the State Board of Elections, about 64 percent of the more than 200,000 new voters who have registered since January are under the age of 35.
Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has been widely credited with drawing more young voters into politics. But exactly what the voter registration numbers mean for Obama’s chances in a state that hasn’t backed a Democrat for president since 1964 remains to be seen, according to University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato.
Four years ago, President Bush beat Democrat John Kerry in Virginia by eight percentage points.
“These additional voters guarantee Virginia will be closer than it’s been before, but closing that entire gap in one election is tough to do,” Sabato said.
In February, 134,968 voters ages 29 and younger cast ballots in the Democratic primary, compared with 52,714 in the Republican primary, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.
Nationally, according to CIRCLE, 47 percent of voters ages 18 to 24 went to the polls in 2004, up from 36 percent in 2000.
“I think there’s no doubt that youth are going to turn out at rates higher than in previous elections,” said Quentin Kidd, an associate professor of political science at Christopher Newport University. “The question is, is that turnout going to be so high that it alone affects the outcome of the election? I’m not willing to say that youth will turn out in such a way that they will shape the election.”
Both political parties are conducting voter registration drives to attract young voters. A “Register for Change” bus tour headed by Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, will stop in Alexandria and Arlington on Saturday.
The Young Republican Federation of Virginia is targeting “young professionals” up to 41 years old because the youngest voters might not turn out in large numbers, said Cristen Vehorn, chairwoman of the organization’s Richmond chapter.
“Nobody can bank on the youth vote, because the youth vote hasn’t been reliable in the past,” Vehorn said.