Reaching young voters
Blue Youth in the California Electorate
How Peer to Peer Outreach Can Harness Young Voters for Democrats and Win the State
By Crystal Strait, President, California Young DemocratsThis is a message we need to keep in mind as the fall campaigns start
and Alex Reese, Communications Director, California Young Democrats
Attention Democrats: Young people like you. A lot.
In 2004, voters under thirty years old supported John Kerry over George W. Bush by a 54 – 45 percent margin. That was the largest pro-Democratic margin of any age group.
That’s right – if young people had been the only voters in 2004, President Kerry would be our Commander in Chief. So much for age and wisdom.
Wait there is more. Among very young voters (ages 18 – 24), Democrats hold a 7% voter registration edge over Republicans, 39 – 32 percent.*
Despite these numbers, Democratic campaigns often ignore young people as a constituency to target because of the pseudo-conventional wisdom that young people don’t vote, and that it’s a waste of time and resources to target them. But they gladly rely on our volunteer hours, often misusing young volunteers to reach out to voters 3 times our age.
These nay-sayers inevitably point to the failure of programs like Rock the Vote. Clearly, they argue, if such a well-funded and well-publicized youth effort failed, young people will not vote and are simply apathetic.
But youth apathy is not what lies at the root of Rock the Vote’s failure. That program failed because of the condescending assumption that young people make important life decisions based on celebrity spokesmanship.
Young people might buy a CD or a soda based on P. Diddy’s recommendation, but he’s not very convincing on foreign relations or domestic policy. Additionally, Rock the Vote dropped the ball in making clear distinctions between Parties and candidates leaving young people with catchy slogans and cool t-shirts but no real information.
So if a multi-million dollar program with celebs didn’t work, what will?
If Democrats are going to benefit from their overwhelming support among young people, a new form of youth outreach is needed. Peer to peer voter outreach may just be the ticket for Democrats.
The peer to peer model engages young people to target their peers where they spend the most time, emphasizing a local message and a local messenger for maximum effect. The peer to peer model emphasizes building a voting bloc for Democrats among young people rather than simply using our volunteer hours on campaigns.
In the 2005 Virginia Governor’s race, Young Democrats of America partnered with local groups and built a massive peer to peer program. They hired canvassers and activated local volunteers from all different youth social groups to target their peers in coffee shops, bars, music stores – everywhere young people hang out, including in their homes. This combination is what works best. They also used youth technologies, such as text messages, to reemphasize their message.
The Virginia effort produced some amazing results, similar to what YDA produced in 2004 with this same model. The concerted peer to peer effort yielded a whopping 15% increase in the youth vote in some targeted precincts. Many of the canvassers involved in the effort remain politically active, continuing to build momentum for young voters throughout the state.
California Young Democrats used a similar model in their phone banking effort in this year’s primary to support Phil Angelides for Governor. Over four hundred Young Democrats made more than 25,000 calls to other young people in their own communities. Again, the emphasis was a local message and a local messenger in contrast to the tired robo-calls from celebrities. These were real calls from real young people talking to their peers about why it’s important to vote for Democrats.
The power of the youth vote is exponential – if young people are brought into the system, they are more likely to vote now and in the future. That means one youth Democratic vote today means dozens of Democratic votes in the future.
Research indicates that if a person votes for a certain party three times in a row, that party has a voter for life. Young Democrats are focused on building a powerful youth voting bloc that will not only change politics but will change the party as well.
If Democrats get behind peer to peer programs, it could influence elections today and for years to come. Millions of Democratic votes are waiting in those coffee shops and lounges. And Democrats can snare them by treating young people as a valuable constituency and not simply volunteers or gullible consumers whose votes can be bought by a simple ad campaign.
posted by Steve @ 1:49:00 AM