On pushback, Lee Fang posted a transcript of an interesting interview taking place on CNN.  The guest was Ben Ferguson, a 27 year old right-winger.  Fang describes him as “the media’s go-to guy for all matters relating to young people and conservative politics.”  Of course, Fang also points out Ben’s credentials:  “He abhors MTV and popular youth culture, is a proud virgin, and routinely mocks progressive causes through his nationally syndicated talk-show and newspaper column.”  Let’s take a look:

FOREMAN: Ben, let me ask you this question then. If you’re a young conservative and you’d like more people to support McCain, presumably, what does John McCain do at his age to reach across that gap because truly there are so many young people who I run into who say, I respect him, he’s a great guy, he’s wonderful. But he’s so different than me.

FERGUSON: I’ll be honest with you, if I’m advising John McCain right now, I would tell him to not inspire young people to come out and vote because for every one he turns out to vote for him, he’ll end up inspiring two or three other people to come out and vote for Barack Obama.

FOREMAN: Let’s not get out the youth vote movement?

FERGUSON: Yes, if you’re John McCain, I wouldn’t want to inspire young people. That’s going to get that movement vote to kick your tail. And that’s the last thing he needs to do.

Emphasis added.  Well, first — it’s a good thing Ferguson is only a talk show host, because that advice is deplorable.

But let’s assume Ferguson’s contention that McCain should stay away from inspiring young people for fear of actually pushing more toward Obama is true (which, it very well may be).  And let’s bring in what we know about the connections between a healthy democracy and engaged young voters:

A healthy democracy requires that people learn, listen, dream, and work together as they unleash their collective potential to build the common good. When young people are excluded from participation in this dynamic, the potential for common good is deeply diminished. Despite a common misperception of today’s youth as self-absorbed and uninvolved, in example after example, young people ages 15 to 25 demonstrate a strong desire to engage actively in the work of building a just national and global society. This high degree of youth involvement not only develops leadership and civic skills in young people, but also adds much needed energy and perspective into community change efforts, policy debates, and governance at all levels.

With all of this in mind, isn’t Ferguson’s proposal indicating that a victory by McCain might not be the best thing for a democracy?  My political sympathies aside, that’s what I’m thinking when I read the transcript of Ferguson’s statement.  Choosing not to inspire younger voters goes against everything I have been taught to believe about the democratic process.

Granted, Ferguson does not play a role in the McCain campaign.  But an appraisal of his campaign keeps me from thinking that McCain isn’t taking some of Ferguson’s advice.  We know McCain exerts great energy trying to figure out the Internet, which is where young people are increasingly getting their news and information about the campaign.  We know he’s not put forth any plan for national service outside of the military (young voters are service all-stars).  We know he’s not exactly forthcoming with plans for higher education, a hallmark issue for today’s youngest voters.  While it’s probably not that groundbreaking for many readers of Future Majority and my own blog, it would appear that McCain does indeed have a “youthiness” problem.

One more thing about Ferguson, though.  When pushback’s Lee Fang quoted the transcript, he cut out one of the most annoying and grating things for me to hear or read from any political observer — something that immediately erases any ounce of credibility they may have had with me.

FERGUSON: There were more young people that voted but it was the same percentage of the overall vote because overall, more people voted in the last election than the one before it. So I don’t know if they’re necessarily going to show up. They thought they were going to show up for John Kerry and they didn’t.

The young people, do they have an opinion? Yes. Does that mean they’re going to go vote? I don’t think so.

Ben Ferguson, meet Michael Connery:

Turnout vs. Share: There’s a sub-theme to be aware of here as well. There are two ways of measuring how a demographic performs during an election. These are turnout and share of the electorate, and the media has a hard time distinguishing between the two. Turnout means the hard number of people participating. In the IADP data above, 4,836 18-24 year olds caucused. That’s the hard turnout number for that age demographic. You’ll also notice that the data states that 18-24 year olds made up 3.9% of caucus goers in 2004. That’s the share of the electorate for that age demographic. These two numbers can present very different pictures of demographic performance. The 2004 general election provides us with an excellent example.

In 2000, 18-29 year olds made up 17% of the electorate. That was their share of the electorate. In 2004, 18-29 year olds once again comprised 17% of the electorate. The “logical” conclusion is that the youth vote did not increase, and that was what the media reported on November 5th, 2004. Of course, this was wrong. If one examined the actual turnout numbers, it quickly became apparent that there was a huge increase in youth participation. In fact, 4.3 million more 18-29 year olds turned out in 2004 than did in 2000. That increase didn’t appear in the share of the electorate data because turnout increased among all age demographics. In order to get a sense of what happened with young voters this year, we’ll need to examine not only their share of the electorate, but also the hard turnout numbers. The media missed this in 2004, and the campaigns and youth advocates will all be checking this data to make sure that the campaigns and press don’t make the same mistakes twice.

Ferguson can’t distinguish between share and turnout.  Just because many other people turned out to vote in 2004 outside of the 18-29 age bracket does not mean those aged 18-29 should be criticized and believed to be a disappointment yet again.  The truth that Ferguson and other ignorant political observers want to ignore is that there is a trend toward increased voting among youth (which I think is related to Ferguson and McCain’s avoidance of this demographic).

So what does all of this mean?

1.) Ben Ferguson might just have a career in the “vast right wing conspiracy,” given his ability to repeat untruths and act like he knows what he’s talking about.

2.) John McCain, if he is pursuing a “youth avoidance” strategy like it currently appears, would ostensibly be running counter to healthy democratic values.

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