Thursday, October 15, 2009

Will Young Voters Continue to Help Democrats?

Summary: The progressive Millennial generation appears to be less engaged since 2008 - is there any way for the Democrats to turn that around?

Politico today has a potentially troubling article for Democrats looking forward to next year’s midterm elections.

From the article:

In New Jersey, about 377,000 of the 560,000 young voters who showed up at the polls supported Obama. In Virginia, about 373,000 out of 621,000 young voters backed Obama.

But some young Democrats say that energy surge has begun to dissipate and student political involvement for the 2009 races has returned to normal — before the Obama phenomenon seemed to transfix young voters.

At the University of Virginia last October, political signs plastered dorm room walls, and campaign volunteers saturated the campus.

Now, volunteers canvassing first-year dorms report that many students have no idea who [Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh] Deeds is.

The article points out, however, that this is not exactly a phenomenon.

Historically, gubernatorial races suffer from low voter turnout across all age groups. Experts already expect less than half of last year’s electorate will cast a vote in either state. And young voters are often one of the first age groups politicians lose in an off-year election, making it vital for Democrats to round up a solid showing, according to Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement…

…New voters haven’t entirely dropped from the political process. A number of college Democrats say their membership numbers are steadily climbing and that more students are likely to become interested in the races during the final weeks. Those who are tuned in to the campaigns say they’ve been impressed by the extensive outreach both campaigns are making on social media forums including Facebook and Twitter, and by the campaigns’ grass-roots efforts on campuses…

…The [Deeds] campaign is also relying for additional outreach on a television ad aimed at college students.

In the ad Priority, Deeds tries to relate to the financial struggles of college students.
“Growing up, we didn’t have much. But education was always a priority,” Deeds says in the ad. “My mom sent me off to college with just four twenty-dollar bills, so I know good schools are the best investment we can make in our children’s future.”

In New Jersey, Corzine recently tailgated with hundreds of Rutgers University alumni and students before the school’s homecoming game. Despite last-minute advertising, only 30 of the campus Democrats’ nearly 300 members showed up, according to Rutgers University Democrats President Alex Holodak.

“To be honest, it’s been a rough year. Even though the race is getting more interesting minute by minute, it’s more difficult to get people engaged this year,” said Holodak. “I feel like the overall morale of people is like, ‘We already elected the president,’ and that’s it.”

We’ve mentioned before how young voters are dramatically shifting overall public opinion, but without a strong effort to turnout the youth vote, they probably won’t help shift public policy.

One reason that young voters are less likely to be engaged during midterm elections - which the article only briefly mentions - is that college students often do not attend a school in their home state. As a result, they feel less invested in the outcome of a statewide election than they do in a national one.

In a presidential race, most everyone on campus knows the outcome of the election could likely affect them personally. Even foreign exchange students understand it is important who the president of the United State is. That cannot really be said of a gubernatorial race.

The Deeds and Corzine campaigns are right to invest in targeting young voters through new media and grassroots outreach. As Lauren Gilbert - President of the James Madison University Young Democrats - said, “there’s still a lot of potential here.”

Depending on the outcomes of those efforts, they could serve as an important lesson for Democrats in 2010.

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