Back in 1984, when I produced the first MTV voter-registration spots, a number of my liberal activist friends were worried about Ronald Reagan's popularity with youth. I asked then-Congressman Tom Harkin, the Democratic nominee for the Senate, if he thought increased youth turnout would hurt him in a state that, because of heavy cable penetration, had an unusually large number of MTV viewers. "If I can't get young people to vote for me," Harkin said, "I don't deserve to win." Harkin did win, and he was re-elected in 2002 to his fourth term in the Senate. However, he turned out to be one of the very few Democrats who has shown any interest in younger voters since the Reagan era.
According to the Voter News Service numbers, Al Gore beat George W. Bush among 18- to 29-year-old voters by a mere 2 percentage points (48 to 46), a gigantic drop in this age group from Bill Clinton's 19-point margin over Bob Dole in 1996 (53 to 34) and 11-point margin over George Bush the elder in 1992 (45 to 34).