Washington - America's political samurai are coming to terms with a new reality in the 2008 presidential election: Young voters, who have made little impact in national politics over the past three decades, are emerging as a growing, influential slice of the electorate.
The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the war in Iraq caught the new generation's attention and have made politics seem more relevant. Recent surveys show the rate of participation for voters younger than 30 leapt in the 2004 and 2006 elections.
Jeanne Shaheen, director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University, points to a startling development that took place in 2004.
For decades, the most prized age group for politicians has been the elderly, who count on government pensions and medical care and vote in record numbers.
But "there were a million more voters under the age of 30 who voted in 2004 than over the age of 65," Shaheen said.
Shaheen previously ran campaigns and served three terms as New Hampshire governor.
"For 30 years after 18-year- olds got the right to vote, we saw a continuous gradual decline in their participation," Shaheen said. "That began to reverse itself in 2004."
And in 2006, according to the institute's research, heavy turnout in college towns and otherwise youthful communities like Charlottesville, Va., and Missoula, Mont., played a key role in the election of Democratic senators in both states - Jim Webb in Virginia and Jon Tester in Montana.