How do you capture that elusive “youth vote”? In the first presidential election since Barack Obama’s campaign showed it was possible to effectively leverage young voter engagement, the question still remains of how to keep 18-29 year olds engaged in the political process.
SEATTLE — “Politics,” Alex Miller says, “is inherently uncool.”
As we sit in the urban loft headquarters of the Washington Bus, a youth-driven political advocacy organization, it sure seems like they’ve found something cool about the creaky old voting process. Maybe it’s the “Vote Bot” Robot or the foosball table.
But the Bus’s Communications Director is serious.
“It just can’t be cool,” he reiterates. “And that’s fine — it’s still super valuable. What you can do is find things that are cool and meaningful to young people, and you can figure out what’s political about them.”
The question that seems to arise every presidential election year — how do you get out the youth vote? — is once again in the local and national conversation in 2012. While the 2008 Presidential season saw a surge in youth participation as a result of the Obama campaign’s outreach and leverage of social media to reach younger voters, a recent poll from the Harvard Institute of Politics showed that only 49% of Americans age 18-29 will “definitely” vote in November. Only 22% of U.S. college students self-identify as politically active.
The majority of young voters are like Curtis Rusch, a freshman at the University of Washington. He registered to vote soon after his 18th birthday, eager for the opportunity to vote in the 2012 presidential election. But off-year elections and smaller races or initiatives are not on his radar, or that of his friends.
“I just feel like it doesn’t make that much of a difference,” he says. “Some of those issues seem really small to us since they’re not affecting us every day, so it doesn’t pique our interest as much.”
Alan Charnley, a 26-year-old from the 32nd district, sees that tension often in the students at Shoreline Community College that he approaches, clipboard in hand, to strike up conversation — and eventually ask them if they’re registered to vote.
The one-time summer camp counselor admits he’ll Facebook sneak-attack his former campers when they turn 18: “I’ll write, ‘Congratulations, Happy Birthday! Now go register to vote’.”
Here in Washington State, 18-24 year olds made up 12.64% of the population in 2010, but made up only 9% of total registered voters (see graphic).
So what is the trick to capturing that elusive youth vote?More