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CNN Debate: Young Voters Win

Regardless of which candidate won Monday night’s debate, one thing is for certain: young American voters (18-39) emerged as winners. Young voters desperately want both politicians to focus on the economy, and this is exactly what the debaters did.

Youth unemployment is currently 18.4% – more than double the national rate. The numbers are even worse among some groups: unemployment is especially high in urban areas, and unemployment estimates for Black youths range from 17 to over 40 percent.

Accordingly, young Americans view the economy as the top issue. In a September 15, 2010 Rock the Vote survey, 96 percent of young Americans said they are concerned about the nation’s unemployment rate and 93 percent are concerned about the national debt. No other issues commanded such universal worry. In another Rock the Vote survey – taken in August 2010 – 34 percent of young Americans rated “jobs and the economy” as the issue they “would most like for politicians to do something about,” and 20 percent rated it the second most important issue. This combined 54 percent made the issue by far the most important – the second place issue, education, totaled only 29 percent.

Nor does a bachelor’s degree insulate young Americans from economic woe and worry. Fox News reports that college unemployment rates rose 5.5 percent from 2005 to 2009, and things haven’t gotten any better since. Even when college graduates are able to find a job, it’s likely to be for a smaller salary than a commensurate skill set would have earned 5 years ago. According to The New York Times, “the average salary offered to graduates with a bachelor’s degree has slipped 1.7 percent from last year (2009), to $47,673 (in 2010).”

And so just like young voters in general, college students put the economy atop the importance list. Our organization – RK Research – recently surveyed 1,000 college students from across the country; these students ranked “the economy” as the second most important issue of the 25 issues presented (education ranked highest).

It’s with much relief to the young population then that Monday night’s debate focused on fixing America’s economy. CNN host John King spent the first hour fielding questions like, “What is the Republican plan for jobs?” “Is 5 percent growth rate possible?” “Are higher taxes necessary to bring down the deficit?”

Asking these questions not only forces Republicans to come up with real plans for improvement, but it also puts pressure on President Obama to cut short whatever ideas he had for social or international issues and work on getting jobs for Americans. Monday night put the attention where it ought to be: the economy. And that’s definitely a good thing for young voters.