For young voters, the leadership gap widens

They didn’t vote for the Tea Party and the GOP, and it could have been a very different outcome for Democrats had they invested more time and energy in young voters and used the winning playbook from 2008. In places where we engaged with young people, we saw turnout increases. For young people, there was not an enthusiasm gap, but rather a leadership gap.

Young voter turnout this time around appears to be comparable to recent midterm years – CIRCLE estimates that 20.4 percent of those under 30 voted in Tuesday’s midterm elections compared to 23.5 percent in 2006. This lack of increased participation stems from their distaste of angry attack ads, political bickering, and candidates failing to engage them and ask for their votes.  

Despite this disconnect, Rock the Vote mobilized hundreds of thousands of young voters this midterm cycle through registration drives on the ground and online that generated more than 300,000 voter registration downloads. We also had help from hundreds of volunteers to conduct critical get-out-the-vote events on campuses and in communities nationwide.  

In youth-dense precincts where Rock the Vote aggressively targeted young voters, we proved that building a relationship with this generation results in an expanded electorate.  

For example, in Pennsylvania, we saw a 25 percent increase in votes cast from 2006 totals in the nine most youth dense precincts in Philadelphia, where we worked to register and connect with young voters. (*See our precinct totals here).

We believe in this generation and they believe they can change this country. Rock the Vote will continue to build on its proven hybrid field and digital model, and keep looking for new ways to engage young voters. We’ll also continue to educate candidates on the best ways to serve this constituency in their campaigns and while in office. Ultimately, we will change how political campaigns are run in this country and we will not stop working until every young American feels engaged in our political process.

Heather Smith is the president of Rock the Vote.


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