Watching election returns last night proved to be a very interesting evening. What became consistent was the impact of the lack of outreach on the youth segment of the electorate and the diminished rate of enthusiasm.
"Only 1,973,868 of a total 4,955,755 voters participated in the gubernatorial race — "a miniscule number when you consider there were 3.7 million voters in the 2008 election," said Isaac Wood, assistant communications director at the University Center for Politics... He added that generally one-third of Virginia voters in presidential elections choose not to participate in gubernatorial elections, and that, as such, yesterday’s voter turnout was even lower than usual."
One difference this year than in 2008 was young voters had a candidate at the top of the ticket who actively sought their vote.
This isn't generally the standard in other elections, despite our efforts to teach candidates otherwise. Outreach is so important, asking young people for their vote is key, and peer to peer outreach is a must. All of these things happened nation wide in 2008, in large part because the Obama campaign placed a high importance on getting out the vote for young people.
Let's also not forget the huge outreach done by non-party groups like HeadCount, Rock the Vote, and state youth groups around the country. I did receive a "Go Vote" email from HeadCount yesterday but no text messages from Rock the Vote, and no facebook reminders. There just wasn't the kind of work done this year that was done last year.
This was echoed in a brilliantly articulated piece in the Washington Post
"It doesn’t seem to have been enough, and one immediate lesson from these off-off-year elections is already clear: Democrats have a lot of work to do to bring Obama loyalists to the polls, particularly the young. Early exit polls suggest that the share of the electorate represented by voters under 30 will be cut roughly in half compared to 2008.
No one expects that young voters will be as excited by this year’s election (or by next year’s midterms) as they were by Obama’s own candidacy. But Democrats are more dependent on young voters than ever before – something I wrote about earlier this fall. Virginia should bring home to them the imperative of mobilizing the millennials with more than just a nice ad toward the end of a campaign."
Another major problem I'll echo comes from the Atlantic Wire
Uninspired by Democrats Elrod at The Moderate Voice isn't so sure. "Young voters and African Americans did not feel inspired to support the Dems in those states," Elrod writes. "If they feel that way in November 2010 then the consequences will be grave for the Democrats."
Never underestimate the inspiration factor. In large part it comes from a candidate that speaks to young voters. A candidate doesn't have to look like Obama, or speak as well as Obama does - the simple outreach and ability to speak to youth issues can be enough. Communicate to young voters 1. the differences between the candidates, 2. why their vote is important, and 3. ask them for their vote. Get them to vote early or by mail, and then actively GOTV on election day.
The Atlantic Continues by placing some blame
"Jon Stewart Failed, and White House Didn't Step In: Maegan Carberry at the Huffington Post isn't the first to argue, provocatively, that "it's been up to Jon Stewart and FunnyOrDie.com to keep the kids engaged." The problem with the Obama team, she says, is that "despite its hipster Flickr feed and weekly YouTube address, [the White House] has presented a television-driven strategy, ceding a great deal of its street cred with the president's digital Millennial generation base."
I both agree and disagree. Young people watch more than Jon Stewart and FunnyOrDie and saying that the youth vote depends on these two factors is an oversimplification. There wasn't a youth campaign, whether from national sources or from the state campaigns. If there isn't going to be national outreach done by The Daily Show or online then the only option is peer to peer outreach on the ground done by the campaign. Neither in this case happened.
This is also the first election with OFA at the helm of the DNC, and I think its an indictment of the style of organizing. Its troubling that OFA wasn't involved in the Maine vote considering the extent to which the White House has attempted to make-up to the LGBT community.
When democrats weren't in the White House the DNC organizing model was focused on elections, now that we hold the White House the purpose of the DNC has shifted to pushing the President's agenda, which is why the DNC isn't in the business of winning elections anymore (locally or otherwise), but instead organizing around issues like the President's health care reform battle. This isn't a criticism, its just the way things are. If democratic donors want to see electoral results they should invest in the DCCC, the DSCC, the DGA or local state parties, not to OFA or the DNC.
Finally, the Atlantic says
"Young People Fickle, Bored, and Hate Health Care "Would Obama have had more legislative success," wonders Steve Sailer at the iSteve blog..."
I both agree and disagree here as well. I wouldn't say fickle, I think its pretty simple to outline a winning strategy for young voters and it starts with outreach and we've determined that wasn't done here. I would agree that youth were bored with their choices - there was no inspiration and again no outreach. But I disagree this has anything to do with health care nor do I agree that young people hate health care. In the past I've written on Future Majority that the HCR battle would have been a lot easier and more effective if OFA and the White House incorporated youth into the discussion, but instead they were ignored there as well.
The moral of this story is that the DCCC and the DSCC should go beyond "showing candidates the data on young voters" (as Chris van Hollen said at the 80MS conference), and show campaigns how they can win with the youth vote and how to do the proper outreach. With a professionally run campaign to connect with young voters, their candidates can win the way Obama did with youth, but the outcome will be similar to NJ and VA if they don't.
UPDATE: There is a demographic breakdown of partisan vote in VA that shows that 18-29 year olds voted 51% for Deeds, 47% for McDonnell, and were 10% of the vote share in VA.
Crossposted from Future Majority - the leaders in reporting the youth movement :)