February 6, 2004

Entertainers encourage young adults to vote

By Melissa Sanchez
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

WASHINGTON – The character lineup was a bit unusual.

Sitting in front of a crowd of high school and college students Monday were superstar wrestlers Bradshaw and Chris Nowinski, hip-hop artist Layzie Bone, MTV officials and Kay Maxwell, president of the League of Women Voters.

But the group, calling itself 20 Million Loud, had a common purpose: to get young people excited about politics.

“We are very important players in the game, so why don’t we go there and smack down the vote?” said Shaniqua, a 29-year-old professional wrestler for World Wrestling Entertainment.

While one vote might not make a huge difference, Maxwell said, 20 million votes could decide an election. And that’s both the name and goal for the coalition built around attracting the 18-to-30 age group to the polls.

This year, 20 Million Loud is trying to add 2 million young voters to the 18 million who voted in the 2000 general election. They made up 16 percent of total voters.

The coalition released a guidebook, “18-30 VIP,” at a news conference with questions young voters should be asking the candidates.

The “voter issue paper” guide focuses on what research from top national polls – CNN/Rock the Vote, the Harvard Institute of Politics, MTV and the Youth Vote Coalition – suggests are the three most important issues to young people: the economy, education and Iraq-national security.

The League of Women voters plans to use some of the questions in a Democratic presidential debate Feb. 15.

“This is just the start,” said Gary Davis, of WWE, in an interview. “We’re going to take democracy to the people and remind them they have a role to play.”

The coalition’s efforts might be effective.

Erin Malloy, a 16-year-old student from Petaluma, Calif., who attended the event, said she thought MTV’s election coverage was especially important to people who don’t rely on traditional news coverage.

“A lot of people just tune in to hear MTV news,” she said. “I mean, they talk about the elections with stuff about J-Lo and Ben Affleck’s breakup.”

MTV launched its Choose or Lose campaign in 1992 with the goal of informing young adults about how politics works, getting them registered and making presidential candidates interested in the issues that matter to them.

Linda McMahon, CEO of WWE, said she doesn’t think any of the Democratic candidates have made a strong attempt to reach the 18-30 age group.

“They’re not thinking about the power of getting their vote,” she said. McMahon and others cited reports about how many young people actually vote.

A 2003 report from Harvard University’s Institute of Politics predicts that 59 percent of college students will “definitely be voting” in the presidential election. In 2000, just under half of those between 18 and 24 voted, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning.

And unlike a common misperception that young people vote liberally, 34 percent of students polled said they would vote to re-elect President Bush and 32 percent said they would opt for the Democratic candidate.

The rest were either undecided or said they would vote independent.

WWE, which reaches between 18 and 19 million viewers during an average week, has been registering voters at wrestling events.

Davis said “only a few hundred” people have been registered so far, but the organization plans to send some of its superstars to the Democratic and Republican national conventions to report to its viewers. One wrestler, The Rock, helped open the Republican convention in 2000.

Meanwhile, hip-hop music industry baron Russell Simmons and major rap artists are also encouraging young fans to register to vote with the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, a non-profit group that promotes education on social and civil issues.

For more information: http://www.smackdownyourvote.com

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