In the 1992 film My Cousin Vinny, Vinny Gambino (Joe Pesci) immortalized the term “yute” in an exchange with Judge Haller (Fred Gwynne):
Judge: “What is a yute?”
Gambino: “Oh, excuse me, Your Honor, two youths.”
Gambino demonstrated that his spoken dialect was not based upon any negative stereotype of his clients. On the contrary, it is not equally clear that political party leaders share Cousin Vinny’s sensitivity with respect to youth, particularly when it comes to voting. Polling data studies and demographics indicate an increasing number of voters under 25 are participating in elections and expressing a party preference.
A Tufts University study (Half of Young People Voted in 2020, Major Increase From 2016 | Tufts Now) published in April 2021 found the participation of younger voters substantially affected by state electoral laws and policies:
Researchers found a strong association between higher youth voting and states with more policies in place that make voting and registration easier, such as automatic registration, same-day registration, early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, etc. In aggregate, states with four or more of these policies had 54% youth voter turnout; states with one to three of these policies had 43%.
States with mail balloting dramatically increased youth turnout:
Youth voter turnout was highest (57%), and had the largest increases over 2016, in states that automatically mailed ballots to voters. Conversely, states with the most restrictive vote-by-mail laws had the lowest youth turnout, at 42%.
In March of this year, a RealClearPolitics article (Age Group Patterns Explain GOP’s Popular Vote Losses | RealClearPolitics) compared the voter turnout of 18-29-year-olds over the presidential campaigns from 2008 to 2020. The results confirm the youth vote trending to favor Democrats:
|Year||Democratic||Republican||% of Electorate|
Proselytizing younger voters is an investment in the future success of a political party. The Democrats have taken the lead in advocating for policies such as reducing student debt to attract younger voters, while the current efforts of state-led GOP strategies to restrict voter access run counter to the Tufts findings. One GOP political strategist offered his theory for improving performance among youth: “When the kids grow up and start paying lots of taxes, they will vote Republican.”
Proselytizing younger voters is an investment in the future success of a political party. The Democrats have taken the lead in advocating for policies such as reducing student debt to attract younger voters . . . . One GOP political strategist offered his theory for improving performance among youth: “When the kids grow up and start paying lots of taxes, they will vote Republican.”
As party strategists formulate policies and plans for the crucial 2022 and 2024 cycles, it will be interesting to witness whether either major political organization, recognizing the youth trends, will propose lowering the voting age to 16. An amendment to H.R.1 by progressive Democrats to lower the national voting age to 16 failed. However, some local grass roots efforts emerged in 2020 and may continue. Some advocates believe the better path would be to lower the voting age in one state for nonfederal offices to avoid the more daunting necessity of a Constitutional amendment.
Virginia has already laid the groundwork with its measures to enhance voter access through no-excuse voting, early voting, and mail balloting. According to census data (Virginia Population demographics 2020, 2019 (suburbanstats.org), the Commonwealth has about 317,000 residents in the 15-17 age bracket. Granting suffrage in nonfederal state and local elections to this cohort could boost the performance of the political party advocating it.
The Old Dominion has previously passed legislation authorizing high school youth to take advantage of a one-day excused absence to participate in a civic event each school year. That may be an opportunity for political parties to tap into the 317,000 for campaign events. It’s a modest overture nonetheless to young activists who will eventually be taxpaying (if not already) residents and organizers. Local and state leaders are always searching for labor and large crowds.
As the data trends demonstrate, Vinny Gambino’s New York-accented pronunciation may have resonance in real-time political outcomes. Mass shootings in schools and threats from climate change are among motivational events encouraging “yutes” to engage in political activity. Youth suffrage is a next logical step in progression.
Cousin Vinny wasted no time rushing to the aid of his relative. Perhaps the same attentiveness and attention will be the reward for one state in the union. Virginia has set substantial groundwork tor yute voting.