Political pundits and students say North Carolina's candidates for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Republican Sen. Jesse Helms are neglecting issues relevant to voters aged 18 to 30.
The campaigns of Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Elizabeth Dole focus on issues such as Social Security and prescription drugs while avoiding hot-button issues important to younger voters like drug legalization and abortion rights.
Experts say the candidates' key issues are geared toward older voters and that the issues concerning voters younger than 30 are not properly addressed.
A recent survey by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University found older voters intending to vote in the Nov. 5 election outnumbered voters younger than 30 more than 2-1.
The survey projects that 20 years from now only 8 percent of total voters who come out to the polls will be younger than 30, compared to the more than 30 percent who will be adults 65 and older.
On Nov. 5, 23 percent of all 25-year-olds are expected to vote, and as little as 19 percent are projected to vote in 2022. In contrast, the 1974 election saw 30 percent of all registered 25-year-olds voting in the general election.
"The data shows a declining rate in young voters," said Mollyann Brodie, vice president of public opinion and media relations at the Kaiser Foundation.
One implication for young people is that politicians spend their time and energy on people who put them in office, Brodie said. "It's hard to imagine they have the issues concerning young voters at the top of their mind."
She added the survey shows younger people feel differently than older voters on many issues. But she said the bottom line is younger voters do not have the voter turnout to be an important force.
"Politicians need to get elected to do their job," she said. "It's not that they're ignoring younger people, they're just targeting the people who vote for them."
Ferrel Guillory, director of UNC's Program on Southern Politics, Media and Public Life, said even the candidates' television ads reflect their focus on older constituents.
But he said it is natural for candidates to focus attention on issues affecting older voters because they consistently turn out at the polls. "I'd say there is a much greater focus on older voters because they vote at a much higher rate," he said. "You would naturally expect candidates looking for the most votes to spend more time and attention on older voters."
Voting behavior is stronger among people who have an established a sense of community because they think issues will affect them more greatly, Guillory said. "The larger picture is not that college-age adults are more apathetic, but it is more a condition of situation in life."
But Guillory said he thinks the candidates have made an effort to appeal to younger voters. He cited appearances both have made on campuses to engage students and encourage them to vote.
Dole kicked off the Students for Dole Campaign at Duke University on Aug. 29. Bowles spoke to UNC students Aug. 26 at a UNC Young Democrats forum.
UNC junior Kate Barnhill said she thinks candidates' commercials neglect younger voters. "I see only commercials that are oriented more to older generations, for example, Social Security."
She said she thinks candidates need to explain the relevance of such issues to student voters.
But Barnhill admitted she sees voting as a hassle and is not sure if she will vote. "The logistics are hard." she said. "You're registered in your hometown, and you have to get an absentee ballot. It makes it more difficult."
Assistant State & National Editor Emma Burgin contributed to this article.
The State & National Editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.