No One Hit the Mark With Young Voters

An interesting stat from the exit polls: Voters age 18 to 29 voted for Democrats over Republicans by a 56-40 margin. So even as voters at large were electing Republicans in record number, the youngest voters stayed pretty consistent in their support for Barack Obama's party.

Youth voter turnout as a whole dipped a little, from 23.5 percent in the last midterm elections to 20.4 percent last night, according to CIRCLE. The percentage of the overall electorate that was under 30 also trended down slightly, from 12 percent in 2006 to 11 percent this year.

So what does all this mean? Well it would appear that the youngest voters are a bit of an island, not caught up in the national trends and in many ways not part of the dominant political "conversation" that was happening this year. The size of government, Obamacare, the deficit -- all the things that got older Tea Party voters all worked up -- just didn't seem to resonate with Americans under 30.

It also would seem that both parties missed a big opportunity. Had Republicans been even marginally as effective in courting young voters as older ones, their landslide victory would have been even bigger and they probably would have Senate seats in Colorado and Washington.

Conversely, it seems that Democrats and the president were foolish to not jump on the young voter bandwagon a bit earlier and put more resources behind bringing out the youth vote. I mean, it's just basic logic... play to your base.

Ultimately though, I think one reason neither party goes after young voters is they simply have no idea how. It's up to us, the specialists, to do that job, and show that we can do it effectively on a broad scale.

On one level I'm very happy with the work that our organization, HeadCount, did in 2010. We had over 25,000 people sign a "Pledge to Vote," we collected another 14,000 new registrations, and our Jay-Z PSA ran multiple times on The Late Show with David Letterman.

On another level though, I must confess to being very disappointed. To paraphrase Jay-Z in the PSA, we're trying to "change the world" here, not just rack up statistics. So this is definitely a week to ask what we could have done differently or better.

I think what was really missing this year was something that would get young America talking about the election via social media. Sure there was some chatter on Facebook and Twitter all year, and it erupted in the days leading up to the election with various "Commit to Vote" and "I Voted" icons. But online, 2010 was the year of the double rainbow and a two-year old smoking, not the midterms.

To win back the gains we made from 2004-08, when youth voter participation increased with each election, we're going to have to get a lot more creative.

Democrats and Republicans both left a lot on the table this year with young voters. But change in this arena is not going to come from the top. It will come from young people and youth culture. It will happen organically and not look or feel like a "campaign."

One final thought... With all the millions of dollars spent on advertising, phone banking software and fancy election websites this year, the thing that seemed to catch the most fire was the sparse and perverse An anonymous creator simply took the Google polling place finder, played with the API a bit, and made a website that spit out polling place information laced with profanity. 36,000 likes on Facebook in two days.

It's sad that this, or all things, is what got traction. It's also a case study in how out-of-the-box thinking and tech know-how are the key ingredients for reaching young voters. You won't see anything of the sort coming from candidates or political parties. But it's ideas like this that will re-engage young people, and deliver a lot of fucking voters to Democrats and Republicans alike.