Apathy? Not.
Yale University junior Zach Marks was sitting in a college dining hall shaking his head at his friend.

The two students had started out discussing how each of their preferred candidates could beat whomever the Republicans nominated. But within minutes, their discussion had turned into a debate.

Hillary Clinton's health care plan is much better than Barack Obama's, Marks' friend insisted: Obama's ideas have been tried and failed, he said.

Marks rolled his eyes.

"No one unites the Republican Party like Clinton," Marks, a 21-year-old Philadelphia resident, argued.

Several days later, Marks said the discussion with his friend was typical. "The dining hall is always abuzz with that sort of conversation," he said. "Folks here are pretty energized about 2008."

That energy seems to be everywhere you find young adults, and colleges and universities are the epicenters. Voter registrars in Mansfield, New Haven and Middletown, homes of the state's best known universities, say there has been an influx of young voters either registering for the first time or changing their political affiliation in time for Tuesday's Connecticut primaries.

"Dorm stormings" have taken place at campuses around the state, with activists going up and down halls, knocking on doors to get students to register.

Young adults are stepping up and signing up to get involved again in the nation's political process in a way some experts say they haven't seen since the Vietnam War. The youth vote already has been influential in the primaries and caucuses, helping push Republican candidates John McCain and Mike Huckabee and Democrats Clinton and Obama ahead in several states.

"The youth vote is absolutely critical for the primaries," said Marc Morgenstern, executive director of www.declareyourself.com, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to registering people aged 18-29.

The youth factor was "absolutely important to the outcome" in New Hampshire and South Carolina, he said, and, to a lesser extent, in Nevada. Morgenstern said that Declare Yourself alone has registered a quarter-million young people since the caucuses and primaries began in January. He said the organization believes it can double the number of young people, 1.2 million, who registered in 2004.

According to Rock the Vote, which has a mission similar to that of Declare Yourself, more young voters participated in this year's caucuses and primaries than in the last presidential election.

Figures from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at the University of Maryland show that 43 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 voted in the 2008 primary in New Hampshire; in 2004, only 18 percent of people from that age group voted.

The youth vote has been on the rise since the 2000 presidential election, according to Rock the Vote. In 2000, there were 15.8 million young voters. By 2004, the number of young voters had increased to 20.1 million. For the midterm elections in 2002 and 2006, the youth vote rose from 8.9 million to 10.8 million, the first increase in that population group in 24 years.

Based on polling data, experts expect the trend to continue.

"There's a couple dozen states left to go and things could change, but every indication that we've seen is that the youth vote is increasing every single day," said John Della Volpe, polling director at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University.

Breaking On Through

There are a few reasons for this newfound interest, one being the online organization of several candidates who are targeting the younger electorate. Clinton, Obama, McCain and Republican candidate Mitt Romney have profiles on Facebook, an Internet socializing site mostly used by the under-30 crowd. The candidates use Facebook to share their family photos and talk about their interests, such as playing basketball, and their favorite books and television shows. They also discuss their histories, their campaign platforms and policies.

McCain's daughter, Meghan, a recent Columbia University graduate, has a site dedicated to the campaign called mccainblogette.com. In a recent post, Meghan wrote, after her father's victory in Florida, "What does it feel like to win the Florida Primary? It feels like The Doors song 'Break on Through' ..."