Every four years, much energy is spent registering college students to vote, leading political pundits to wonder whether thiswill be the year the youth vote finally makes a difference.
At Arizona State University, a registration "blitz" comes to a head today, the state's deadline for signing up to vote in the Nov. 4 general election. The student government coordinator for voter registration hopes to add 2,000 students to the voter rolls.
But with all of the emphasis on choosing the next resident of the White House, will these just-franchised citizens bother with the races for the statehouse? And what of future elections? Will they continue to vote as they grow older, or will civic participation be a passing fancy?
One question to which political experts say they already know the answer is whether young voters will come out in numbers large enough to tip the election.
In short, no.
Rodolfo Espino, an assistant professor in ASU's political science department, said for proof, look back four years ago. Yes, the number of college-age voters spiked in 2004 - but they got swamped by an even greater jump in turnout from older Americans and evangelicals.
At the University of Wisconsin, political science professor Charles H. Franklin studied the last two presidential elections' voter turnout by age. Franklin showed youth badly trailed their elders in casting ballots, by about 30 percentage points.
If this is the case, then what is the point of working so hard to register young people?
Because then they are more apt to vote in the future, the experts unanimously said.
"It really becomes a habit," said Molly Andolina, a political science professor at DePaul University.
According to the nonpartisan Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), a young person who votes is one-third more likely to in the next election, compared with a nonvoting peer.
One reason, the experts said, is that the voting process - "intimidating," Andolina called it - no longer is a mystery to them.
Espino noted it isn't just the acts of registration and voting his students find to be a hassle; it's the ballot itself. Once voters make up their minds who they want as president, there are decisions to be made for a congressional representative, Arizona Senate and House seats, state propositions, and on down to county and municipal offices.
"In some ways, students find that disheartening," Espino said. "They see all that, and the ballot becomes such a cumbersome thing."
During a door-to-door registration drive at ASU's Manzanita residence hall last week in Tempe, a quick survey of students who signed up to vote found not one who felt comfortable enough to vote on down-ballot candidates and issues.
"Just McCain or Obama," said Michael Rose, a chemical engineering freshman from Illinois.
Ben Stewart, president of the ASU College Republicans, added: "Some of my friends, they'll ask me, 'If I don't vote for the other positions, does that cancel out my ballot?'"
To help students with these lesser races, Stewart's group is coming together with the opposition on campus and two fraternities to hold a voter information forum.
"It won't be a debate," ASU Young Democrats president Lisa Fernandez said. "It will be more how each candidate feels on the issues and their policies."
Whether youth voting registration determines the nation's political makeup in the future remains disputed among political experts.
Espino pointed out a recent study shows a person's genetics strongly influences their political attitude, but not their political affiliation.
But Andolina said a person's partisanship tends to grow stronger as they grow older. That means, she said, the current trend toward youth registering as Democrats "may be creating a Democratic generation."
"The whole idea that you're a liberal when you're young and a conservative as you get older is a fallacy," Andolina said. "It's widely held, but there's very little empirical support."