Democrats must still work to attract younger voters



CHICAGO (AP)—The Democratic Party attracted many younger voters in 1992, and it can keep them if it continues to press for reforms that improve everyday life, party chairman David Wilhelm said Sunday.

In a speech at the conclusion of Leadership 2000, a three-day gathering of young Democrats from Illinois and 22 other states, Wilhelm discussed the special needs and desires of the youngest voters—those from 18 to 30.

He noted that after three straight elections in which the majority of those voters went for GOP presidential candidates, President Clinton ran 9 percentage points ahead of Republican George Bush among younger voters.

Wilhelm warned, however, that the Democrats cannot take such votes for granted.

‘‘That age group is the most volatile part of the electorate,’‘ Wilhelm said. ‘‘Young people were also among the biggest supporters of Ross Perot.’‘

Wilhelm said that young voters are hard to organize and less likely than other blocs to identify themselves with either of the major parties. He said they can be quick to respond to vital issues with energetic idealism, they can be equally quick to feel betrayal when elected officials revert to politics-as-usual.

‘‘Even though we’re making progress … there can be, among younger voters, right below the surface, a cynicism—a state of unease about the political process,’‘ Wilhelm said.

Wilhelm pointed to Clinton’s health care package as an example of the type of vital reform that can keep younger people involved in politics and keep them from turning to cynicism.

He said that during the first eight months of the Clinton administration there have been a number of political victories of importance to voters under the age of 30.

Wilhelm cited the passage of the Family Medical Leave bill, the Motor Voter bill, the reform of the student loan process and passage of the National Service bill as among those victories.

He also said the passage of Clinton’s budget and its deficit reduction provisions will have an important effect on younger Americans—as will the continuing trend of low interest rates.

‘‘People who are just starting out to have families are finding it’s not impossible to buy a home now, but it was all but impossible for them for quite a while,’‘ he said.

Others who addressed the conference included presidential adviser George Stephanopoulos, U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill., and two Democratic members of the Illinois Congressional delegation, Rep. Mel Reynolds and Luis Gutierrez.

Another member of the delegation, Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., held his own weekend conference, a Saturday meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee for an Informed African-American Electorate. That conference concentrated on statewide offices and issues important to the black community.

Rush said a goal of the new organization was to encourage African-American voters to pay more attention to issues, and less to what he called ‘‘personality politics.’‘

‘‘We want objective criteria so African Americans can evaluate those who seek their vote,’‘ Rushg said.