A Harvard-based political institute criticized the hip retailer Urban Outfitters (search) on Monday for a new T-shirt campaign declaring that "Voting is for Old People."

The institute chided the Philadelphia-based clothing chain for appearing to wear its apathy on its chest, calling the T-shirt slogan "the wrong statement at the wrong time" in the pivotal presidential election year.

"The shirt's message could not be further from the truth," wrote Harvard Institute of Politics (search) director Dan Glickman, the former congressman and Clinton administration agriculture secretary, and student chairman Ilan Graff in a letter to Urban Outfitters CEO Richard A. Hayne.

"We would be eager to work with you to suggest alternative products that send the right message to America's young people, and better reflect the considerable social conscience and political participation of today's youth," the letter said. "You might consider 'Voting Rocks!"'

Urban Outfitters defended the slogan as a "statement meant to draw attention to the growing rift between politicians and their platforms and the concerns of young people in this country."

"However 'open-ended' and 'ambiguous' some have felt the message to be, by offering it for sale in our stores, we clearly never intended to discourage anyone from actually voting," the company said in a statement.

Between 1972 and 2000, the so-called youth vote -- among people aged 18 to 24 -- declined by 13 percent in presidential elections, according a September 2002 study by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (search) at the University of Maryland.

In 2000, 42 percent of the youth vote turned out at the polls, compared to 70 percent of voters over age 25, the study reported. However, asking a young person to vote raises the likelihood that they will by 8 percent to 12 percent, according to the center's data.

Urban Outfitters operates 60 stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. It sells casual clothes, accessories, shoes, gifts and housewares.