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Rocking the Vote

Rocking the VoteA new film featuring Tufts senior Scott Merrick and political science professor Kent Portney proves that you're never too young to make a difference.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.28.08] With YouTube debates, MySpace profiles and celebrity endorsements, candidates in this year's presidential race seem more intent than ever before on capturing the youth vote. That includes people like Tufts senior and New Hampshire state legislator Scott Merrick, who has been politically active since his teens.

"When I was a sophomore in high school, I went down to Washington, D.C., with my mother to lobby for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation," Merrick says in "18 in '08," a new documentary examining the question of youth engagement in politics through the eyes of students and legislators. "During those three days, I realized just how important our voice is."

Merrick is now 22 and serving in his second term in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. He was recently interviewed along with Tufts political science Professor Kent Portney in the documentary by Haverford College student David Burstein, which has been screened at events nationwide and is being distributed online and via DVD.

Merrick's idealism marks one side of the paradox that describes the majority of the 29 million young voters in the United States today, according to The Boston Globe. While many are eager for change, the newspaper reported, they are put off by a political system that they see as fractured and corrupt.

"Politics is in a very divisive state right now," Merrick told the Globe. "People my age are turned off by it initially... They should get involved because there is just so much at stake."

Merrick credits his election to a high turnout by young voters. "That made the difference," he told the newspaper.

Those young voters may be more aware of their role than one may assume. Last year, Portney conducted a national survey on civic and political participation of young peoplein conjunction with the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service. The survey of 1,000 men and women between the ages of 18 and 24 found that college students are more involved and aware of politics and civic matters than people may think.

The study found that 58.6 percent of college students are somewhat, moderately or very
involved in their communities, compared with 36.7 percent for non-college students of the same age.

In the fall, Portney began teaching a new class called "The Political Behavior of Young People," a sophomore seminar evaluating the civic and political engagement of the 18-to-24 demographic against that of other populations.

The Tufts political scientist talked to the Globe about "the potential for new media to exert an influence over participation" by young people in the political process.

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