This week Chris Bowers over at Open Left predicts that the voters upon which Barack Obama depended in 2008, a large bloc being young voters, will fail to turn out this November. Bowers grounds his argument in what he calls “long-term civic trends” that show “drop-off voters” participating in presidential elections and failing to go to the polls just two years later. Bowers contends that the importance of young voters to Obama’s coalition will exacerbate this situation come Election Day, as youth consistently form a smaller share of the vote in midterm elections compared to presidential elections (for information on “share” versus “turnout,” please read the first bullet point here). Thus, Bowers calls for a strategy of persuasion as opposed to mobilization.

I disagree with Bowers. In covering youth political participation, one quickly identifies the chicken-egg nature of the topic. Politicians and parties believe youth cannot and will not be politically engaged, so many of the ads, phone calls, and messages are tailored to older voters, alienating the youth demographic. When youth do not turn out after politicians largely ignore them, the media, pundits, parties, and candidates express disappointment in young voters for failing to engage. Thus, youth naturally view electoral politics with cynicism.

In unquestionably consuming the line that youth won’t turn out without unearthing why this might be, we perpetuate the cycle. In a tough political environment thus far, with 435 House races this November and over 30 Senate campaigns, it’s going to be easy this cycle for timid and weak Democratic incumbents and their consultants to stick their fingers in their mouths, hold them out in front of them, and avoid making tough decisions. And with the GOP disgusting young voters, Republicans have little incentive to target youth. Accepting this as inevitability is what gets us to this situation in the first place, because it doesn’t shine the light on the ineffectiveness of this stale strategy. The result is an electorate that’s older, more moralistic, and polarized. Boomer-like ideological strength is at the heart of midterms, not Millennial problem solving. Thus, I heartily disagree with Bowers’ resigned argument because it reflects the hegemony that silences youth and leads to more of the same in our political dialogue, which we can no longer afford.

Perhaps if candidates were to truly engage youth in medium (use up-to-date technological communication) and message (a strong, progressive discussion of the economy, higher education, climate crisis, and national service framed in a problem-solving approach) and possess a strong record of consistent conviction, they might respond. Furthermore, youth suffer from a lack of access, not apathy. When young people are registered to vote, they turn out. For example, according to the US Census, 81.6% of all registered young voters actually cast a ballot in 2004. That is on par with other portions of electorate.

It’s not going to be easy. It’s harder to register/inspire a younger group of people to vote when they are collectively facing over 500 decisions without a headlining candidate/campaign at the top. But it won’t be as hard if we’re willing to challenge our candidates’ conventional campaign strategies.

Bowers is right on one thing — young voters do form the heart of Obama’s base. Unlike Bowers, though, I argue that 2010 is so important, our issues are so pressing, and our demographic is so critical to Democratic success that there’s no choice but to view this as a mobilization struggle. Political interest is at an all-time high among youth; to capitalize, we must recalibrate our campaigns to attract the support of young people.

Advertisements