You know how we addicts of the political crack often run up against that invisible fence, the one between us internet denizens and the more establishment types, the cable punditry and well-heeled analysts? You know, when it becomes evident that they don’t know much about the blogosphere and its dirty fucking hippy “blogger types.” You know, when they discuss us and it starts to sound, well… sort ofanthropological?
Well, when it comes to them discussing “The Youth Vote,” they geteven more wackadoodle, moving past anthropology, right to cryptozoology. The youth vote is Sasquatch, or the giant squid. They call it “elusive” and “hard to pin down.” They simultaneously seek it like treasure and ballhyoo its significance. They want it, claim to have it, they fear it.Theyouthvote: a thing seemingly difficult to quantify using standard polling
instruments, apparently not very well-understood by most political
insiders, always out there in the distance, like a mirage.
So, what’s up with all that, anyway?
Information about young voters abounds if one cares to find it, and most of what’s there is good news for Barack Obama and the Democrats:
More than 6.5 million young people under the age of 30 participated in the 2008 primaries and caucuses.
The increase in youth turnout in the 2008 primaries and caucuses continues a historic trend observed in other elections since 2000.
In the 2004 presidential election, the national youth voter turnout rate rose 9 percentage points compared to 2000, reaching 49 percent.
In the 2006 congressional elections, the voter turnout rate among 18-to
29-year-olds increased by three percentage points compared to the
previous congressional election of 2002.
2008 is the first time since 18-to-20-year-olds were allowed to vote that youth turnout has increased three election cycles in a row.
Barack Obama was the clear choice among youth voters in the 2008 Democratic primaries. He garnered support from 60 percent of young Democrats. Four in ten young Dems supported Hillary Clinton.
In the Republican contests, young voters split their support between John McCain and Mike Huckabee. Approximately one quarter of young Republican voters supported Mitt Romney.
In every presidential election from 1972-1996, young voters preferred the candidate that ultimately won the presidential election and the popular vote, but In the previous two presidential election cycles, 2000 and 2004, the majority of young voters voted Democratic, for the first time diverging from older generations of voters.
Among 18-29 year old voters in the fourteen 2008 Super Tuesday state primaries, 2,099,395were Democrats, contrasted to938,599 Republicans.
These data are among the statistical goodies to be found at the website ofThe Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), a non-partisan research organization focusing on civic education, community service, use of the news and electronic media, and other measures of civic and political engagement to produce youth voter election data and analysis. CIRCLE is part of theJonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service atTufts University.
There’s a wealth of information here, much of it downloadable. A quick good start is the special report by CIRCLE and the well-knownRock The Vote organization:Young Voter Registration and Turnout Trend.
So, the “millenials” do vote, and more of them are voting now than
other young people have before. Are we getting better at getting out
the youth vote, perhaps? Below, the most successful key factors found
to motivate young voters
- Personalized and interactive contact counts. The most effective way
of getting a new voter is the in-person door knock by a peer; the least
effective is an automated phone call. Canvassing costs $11 to $14 per
new vote, followed closely by phone banks at $10 to $25 per new vote.
Robocalls mobilize so few voters that they cost $275 per new vote.
(These costs are figured per vote that would not be cast without the
- Begin with the basics. Telling a new voter where to vote, when to vote and how to use the voting machines increases turnout.
- The medium is more important than the message. Partisan and
nonpartisan, negative and positive messages seem to work about the
same. The important factor is the degree to which the contact is
- In ethnic and immigrant communities, start young. Young voters in
these communities are easier to reach, are more likely to speak English
(cutting down translation costs), and are the most effective messengers
within their communities.
- Initial mobilization produces repeat voters. If an individual has
been motivated to get to the polls once, they are more likely to
return. So, getting young people to vote early could be key to raising
a new generation of voters.
- Leaving young voters off contact lists is a costly mistake. Some
campaigns still bypass young voters, but research shows they respond
cost-effectively when contacted.
On the downside, one of the more serious issues identified by CIRCLE
is not surprising. Their analysis of how high school students become
engaged in civic opportunities showed that student’s race and academic
track, and a school’s average socioeconomic
status determines the availability of the school-based civic
learning opportunities that promote voting. Low-income students, those
not heading to college,
and students of color do not have as much access to these opportunities
as typical middle-class white teens. This analysis is borne out by a
number of other data sets that break down 18-29 year-old voters by race