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Friday, June 09, 2006

Young People Should be Democrats' Top Priority

A new report, "A Gift to Democrats: How Democrats Can Win Elections by Making Young People a Top Priority" (pdf) shows the critical nature of Democrats investing in the youth vote. While Hillary Clinton and her DLC cronies are turning off the youth vote, this new report shows that to be a very harmful strategy for the Democratic Party.

Smart politicians are earning huge dividends for investing in young people. In Tuesday's senate primary in Montana, more than 10% of Jon Tester's vote came from increased turnout from the two counties with universities. In examining the results, New West's Countey Lowery explained:

Tester's win was largely due to his campaign's work mobilizing voters (mostly young ones) in Montana's urban cores. He tapped a group of well-connected young Democrats and it proved very successful -- especially in Missoula. The second-largest city in the state gave Tester a huge majority -- 76.37 percent to Morrison's 21.98 percent. And, talking about mobilization: The last similar primary, in 2002, brought out just 16 percent of registered voters in Missoula. This year, almost 27 percent turned out. [...]

So, perhaps it should be on to Billings for Tester's clan of young Democratic mobilizers. The demographics are there in Yellowstone County to at least try to do what the camp did here in Missoula: Organize young professionals, students, independents and populists into a grassroots movement for Tester.
The bolded line is critical, Tester didn't just reach out to young voters, but young voters inspired by Tester reached out to their friends. These well-connected youth brought a peer-to-peer element to the campaign that was entirely missed by the DC political pundits. As the dynamics of the race evolved rapidly in the final stretch, the connectivity of the youth vote enabled the OODA loop to occur in real-time. A decade ago, I did youth outreach in Missoula and the potential then only modest, but today's technology and political environment can enable an exponential increase for those brave enough to tap into youth networks.

For politicians who want to harness this potential, this new report is a must read. From the press release:

WASHINGTON, June 9 /U.S. Newswire/ -- For years, Washington- based political strategists have summed up their view of young voters with the three-word phrase, "they don't vote." But in a new report, a large group of political and non-profit organizations, academics and party donors argue that the phrase is just a myth. The report demonstrates that while Democratic campaigns have mainly ignored the youth vote, this demographic has nonetheless developed into a decisive voting bloc for progressive candidates -- a "gift" constituency, the report calls it.

In an introduction to the report, Lisa Seitz Gruwell, political director of Skyline Public Works, writes, "Democrats have been given a gift. Despite years of neglect by our Party, this new generation of young voters actually likes us. In fact, they are more progressive than any other age group. Yet most Democratic campaigns spend next to nothing reaching out to young people. In 2004, we learned that young people will vote -- and vote for Democrats -- if we reach out to them effectively."

The report, titled "A Gift to Democrats: How Democrats can Win Elections by Making Young People a Top Priority," was funded by Jonathan and Peter Lewis and by Deborah and Andy Rappaport and released by Skyline Public Works. It includes new detailed quantitative analysis of 2004 campaign efforts and results by Notre Dame University Political Science Professor David Nickerson and Kennedy School of Government graduate Ryan Friedrichs, which find that:

-- Voters under 30 were the only age cohort to give a majority to John Kerry, despite a campaign that made minimal efforts to appeal to them;

-- Young voter turnout was the highest since 1992, with an increase of 11 percent participation over 2000 across the country, and 13 percent in the top 10 targeted states; and

-- Targeted youth registration and outreach efforts by a variety of groups such as the U.S. Student Association, 21st Century Democrats, and the Young Voters Alliance/Young Democrats of America produced measurable increases in turnout among under- 30 voters.

A recent poll conducted by George Washington University discovered that 73 percent of 18-30 year olds are likely to vote in November 2006 and the majority are self-identifying as Democrats.

Analysts also examined the results of 2005 campaigns in Virginia and New Jersey, run by Young Democrats and other youth groups, and found similar results.

At a time when Democratic Party leaders are deciding how to allocate funds for the upcoming mid-term elections, as well as planning for 2008, the report shows that spending time courting the youth vote is a solid and safe investment. This influential coalition of organizations and individuals believes that in order to win elections, younger voters must be effectively cultivated by Democrats who are willing to embrace new thinking and tactics that appeal to young Americans' concerns, lifestyles and media habits.

In order to build on this new information, the funders are also offering "Homegrown Political Innovator Grants" to new or existing organizations that focus on youth (ages 18-35) and have a direct and measurable impact on state elections. The grants, totaling millions and to be announced in a few weeks, will be awarded up to $250,000 per project/organization over the next three years in order to create a partisan, progressive youth voting bloc and political clout within the targeted states.

"Real change will require smart investment," says Jonathan Lewis, challenging others to contribute. "If the Democrats invest in the youth vote, they could dominate the electorate and win life-long voters. The Party itself and its leadership must commit substantial resources and progressive donors need to step as well. Young people are our future. Their vote as progressives will transform our political system."

Tactics for Reaching Target Young Voters

The report makes clear that the most effective efforts to cultivate young voters will require tactical shifts. Democratic campaigns need to shift their focus away from broadcast television advertising, and an emphasis on issues such as Social Security and prescription drug coverage. Instead, the authors recommend a five-step process for solidifying youth support:

1) Talk about issues that matter to them: Young people are not monolithic, and identify themselves more by their stage of life than their chronological age. Understanding the importance of issues such as college costs, housing prices, job opportunities, health care and the like are key to reaching disparate groups of young Americans.

2) Reach them through media they use, with factual information that lets young people make up their own minds: Television continues to have the broadest reach of any medium, but young people are more likely to watch a diffusion of cable channels and late-night programming instead of the broadcast news shows that garner the lion's share of advertising dollars. Additionally, younger voters tend to be persuaded less by heavy- handed advertising than by fact-based presentations that give them the information they need to make decisions themselves.

3) Register young people to vote every day -- online, at their homes and where they hang. Building field efforts around lists of existing voters as most campaigns do, ignores young people who are more likely to be transient and to not have registered previously. Aggressive voter registration that reaches people in places like coffee houses, movie lines and other places where they congregate have been proven highly effective.

4) Implement Election Day registration in every state. The four-states that allowed same-day registration in 2004 -- New Hampshire, Maine, Minnesota, and Wisconsin -- showed significantly higher turnout across all age cohorts. The policy is particularly useful for young people, who tend to be less educated about traditional registration processes. Actively pursuing an expansion of same-day registration will pay dividends for Democrats seeking to cement their strength with this constituency.

5) Turn them out to vote through partisan peer-to-peer contact and reaching them with the technology they use to communicate. The most effective young voter contact programs relied mainly on the efforts of young people in the communities they were targeting, as opposed to such tactics as out-of-state phone banks, which generated less success. Young people rely much more heavily than other voters on email and other communications technologies, making these key to any successful message campaign. The best way, therefore, to reach young voters, is through a mix of traditional door-to-door techniques and non- traditional outreach.

"If we talk to young people on their own terms, about their own concerns, through their own media and where they actually live, they will not only be persuaded but empowered and motivated to make a critical difference," says Deborah Rappaport.

Urging Democrats to Enhance Focus on Young Voters

The "Gift to Democrats" Report is part of a broad effort by a group of longtime Democratic Party supporters to challenge conventional wisdom and encourage candidates, party leaders and donors to pay greater attention to mobilizing the youth constituency. Results are being presented to a variety of Democratic officeholders, campaign officials, givers and activists.

Contributors to the report include Democratic funder Jonathan Lewis, Skyline Public Works' principals Deborah and Andy Rappaport and Political Director Lisa Seitz Gruwell, Young Democrats of America leaders Chris Gallaway and Jane Fleming and academics Prof. David Nickerson and Ryan Friedirchs.

Other notable organizations and individuals that participated in the research for this report include 21st Century Democrats, College Democrats of America, Compare-Decide-Vote, Citizen Change, Downtown for Democracy, Everybody VOTE, Kerry for President -- College Campaign, League of Independent Voters, MoveOn Student Action, Music for America, National Voice, Oregon Bus Project, Punk Voter, Rock the Vote, Ruckus Society-Radical Designs, Stonewall Democrats, United States Student Association and Young Voter Alliance/Young Democrats of America

A substantial variety of additional research and data from a broad variety of sources is also available.

"Data upon data upon data indicate that young voters can make the difference for Democrats and, if properly approached, will do it for the long haul," says Gallaway. "We don't just see it in the empirical numbers, we see it at their homes and where they hang out. Young people will vote and we'll vote for Democrats; you just gotta know how to talk to us."

Here is the roadmap, it will be instructive to see which politicians and political consultants are dynamic enough to cast aside their dogma and take advantage of this opportunity.

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