Celebs gin up votes for midterm push

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With young voters more apathetic about voting and government than ever, several organizations are trying to woo the “selfie generation” to the polls this fall. 

"About half of those who vote in presidential elections do not vote in midterms," explained Andy Bernstein, executive director of HeadCount, a non-partisan organization that partners with musicians to get youth engaged in politics.

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While overall turnout among young voters in presidential elections has grown, turnout for midterms has stagnated, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIVIC).

In 2010, the under-30 vote dropped 27 percent since Obama first sailed to victory two years earlier, according to CIVIC analysis of Census data. 

Bernstein's group hopes to engage these so-called drop-off voters by riding the popularity of musicians.

HeadCount will go on tour with the band The Black Keys for 15 shows in more than a dozen cities from Sept. 6 through Nov. 3 registering young voters.

The group also plans to drive voter turnout through its Pledge to Vote postcards, which involves celebrities taking photos of themselves holding a sign to register to vote and posting it to social media.   

During National Voter Registration Day in 2012, for example, HeadCount got about 200 musicians, actors and comics to hold the signs, including Stephen Colbert, Dave Matthews and 50 Cent.

Their cause was also cheered by actress Susan Sarandon, Cyndi Lauper and musician Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, among others. As a result, the group registered about 40,000 people in a single day.

Musicians and celebrities often jump into the political game, most often for Democrats. For instance, Katy Perry has already promised to write Hillary Clinton's campaign song if she runs for president. Other entertainers were heavily involved in President Obama’s presidential runs, including Beyonce, Jay-Z and Bruce Springsteen. 

While their focus is usually on presidential races, the groups’s uphill task ahead of 2016 is getting youth involved in the elections happening this year.

Of likely midterm voters ages 18-29, 44 percent of Mitt Romney supporters in 2012 plan to vote this year compared to 35 percent of Obama voters, according to another Harvard Institute of Politics survey.

Still, in an election with Senate control up for grabs, Republicans are unlikely to see much of a bump from young voters – less than one in four (23 percent) will "definitely" be voting in November, according to the spring poll.

That's the case in other surveys, too. While 72 percent of those 18-31 said they would "definitely" or "probably" vote in the 2016 presidential election, less than half – 49 percent – said they were likely to vote in the upcoming midterms, according to a poll from Democratic pollster Paul Harstad in early spring.

During every election, it's important to use cultural leaders to get young voters interested in the issues, said Ashley Spillane, president of Rock the Vote.

Celebrities, artists and musicians help draw young voters interested in other issues, Spillane said, such as voter ID laws, women's health and college affordability.

"When you are thinking about this generation, in terms of messaging we are constantly expressing our opinion on a myriad of social platforms," Spillane said, noting the importance of offering tools and meeting the so-called digital natives where they are at to register – online. 

Have to print a form, find an envelope and put it in the mail? "Most young people can't tell you where to get a stamp these days," she said.

Rock the Vote, which works with hundreds of organizations to run events, has a handful of large events to roll out soon.

A big push for the youth vote will be National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 23. The day, which started in 2012, became a holiday when the National Association of Secretaries of State designated the fourth Tuesday each September through 2019.

This year, more than 300 entertainers and musicians will post photos on social media holding HeadCount's Register to Vote signs linking to their online voter registration page and the group will host events in 20 cities that day.

The group will also have young people sign pledges to vote – and get entered for a chance at a musical vacation getaway. Those pledges will get mailed back to them as a reminder, which has been shown to increase participation. 

Growing the youth vote is critical for both parties. Following the 2012 election, the GOP published its 97-page report on attracting more voters, including youth, and noted it must draw young voters with its message and candidates. The report even recommended establishing an "RNC Celebrity Task Force" to get entertainment folks to highlight fundraisers. 

Democrats contend, however, that young voters are naturally left-leaning on most issues, putting the focus for Democrats, then, on mobilization. 

"The message doesn't matter if they're not on the same page ideologically," said Rob Flaherty, youth media director for the Democratic National Committee. 

Still, young voters, like Americans in general, are mostly concerned about jobs, the economy and healthcare, Republicans argue based on recent polling.

"While celebrity endorsements are nice, young Americans are more interested in policies that will benefit them rather than having a famous person tell them who to vote for," Raffi Williams, the Republican National Committee deputy press secretary, wrote in an email.

"They fell for the celebrity endorsements when it came to Obama and are not going to fall prey to the same tactic that has left them behind six years later," he added.

 

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