Will The Democrats Give Young Voters A Reason To Show Up?
Progressives fought conservatives to get young people the right to vote for decades and in 1972 the eligibility dropped to 18. Ever since, the turnout for young voters has been lower than for any other age group. Progressives have tried to make it easier for young people to vote-- proposing vote-by-mail, early voting, late night voting, an election day national holiday, etc... while conservatives have worked even harder to prevent young people from voting-- not allowing college students to vote except in their hometowns, restrictive ID requirements, restrictive voting hours, few polling places and voting machines where young voters live, etc.
The youth vote is generally pretty bad. In 1996-- random example-- 7 out of 10 eligible voters between 18 and 24 did not vote. In 2018 and 2020, however, two good years for Democrats, turnout for young voters was very high. And, last cycle, generally speaking, states with high youth vote (under 30) turnout went for Biden. Let me quantify that. Among states that keep track, these are the ones with the highest share of young voters among the whole 2020 electorate:
Virginia- 20% (youth vote went 64% for Biden)
Georgia- 20% (youth vote went 58% for Biden)
New Hampshire- 18% (youth vote went 62% for Biden)
California- 17% (youth vote went 73% for Bide)
Washington- 17% (youth vote went 69% for Biden)
Maine- 17% (youth vote went 61% for Biden)
Oregon- 17% (youth vote went 63% for Biden)
There were a 5 states where Trump won the youth vote-- and they are all states that discourage the youth vote and where the youth vote made up an abysmally low proportion of voters:
This morning, Elena Schneider reported on Democratic Party panic about the fear that young people are not likely to vote in the kinds of numbers that helped the party win in 2018 and 2020. She noted that "Biden’s yo-yoing numbers with young people 'should concern everyone,' said John Walsh, Sen. Ed Markey’s chief of staff, who managed the Massachusetts Democrat’s successful primary campaign in 2020, which drew unusually high support among young voters for a 75-year-old senator. 'Government is not acting with the urgency this moment demands and they’re frustrated, pissed off.'... [A]fter two years of stalled agenda items important to young people, Democrats are worried 'about where young people are in terms of not feeling engaged or motivated right now,' said Ben Tulchin, a Democratic pollster. 'You have to give them a reason to show up now.'" Sounds like... Democrats disappointing young voters on climate change, affordable housing, student debt forgiveness and raising the minimum wage is going to cost them big time.
Schneider focused on pollster John Della Volpe, head of Harvard's Institute of Politics Youth Poll since 2000, who recently told Democratic senators that young people do vote and they’re not policy purists, snowflakes or socialists and that young voters are not locked up for Democrats. She wrote that "In 2018, citing his own data, Della Volpe predicted that young people would show up in historic numbers, calling Trump’s first midterm a moment of 'once-in-a-generation attitudinal shift' around voting. Some pollsters rolled their eyes, but Della Volpe was right-- 36 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds voted that cycle, almost doubling 2014’s rates and beating any previous midterm participation since the 1980s."
His pitch to engage and empower the 30-and-under set comes at a uniquely perilous moment for the party. Democrats have faced brutal midterm climates and slim margins in Congress before. But the current iteration of the Democratic Party has rarely, if ever, been on such shaky ground with young people.
Earlier this year, approval for President Joe Biden among people aged 18-30 hit depths no Democratic president had plumbed in decades: the mid- to low-30s in Gallup and other polls. (Barack Obama never dropped below 42 percent among that group in Gallup’s surveys.) In some cases, the swing against Biden in 2021 totaled anywhere from 20 to 30 percentage points. He has since made gains in some polls but is still on unstable ground.
An alienated youth vote is an existential threat for Democrats in 2022: They backed Biden by a 25-point margin in 2020, voting at all-time highs. And in their hour of need, powerful Democrats are looking for answers from Della Volpe, a 54-year-old pollster with salt-and-pepper hair who is not on TikTok.
...Della Volpe’s longitudinal insight into young voters-- what moves them, how they feel about politicians and whether they’re going to unplug from politics altogether-- matters deeply for Democrats, especially ahead of 2022. They’re also not as broadly studied or understood as, say, independents, even though they represent a core part of the party’s base and their numbers are fluctuating. The party goes into the midterms in an unusual place with young people, Della Volpe said in an interview: “There are more younger people in play than there were in the last two cycles.”
Where Democrats spent past elections mostly worried about whether young people would vote, “this cycle is different,” Della Volpe continued. In the face of economic unrest, disinformation and without former President Donald Trump as a foil, he said, “Democrats need to persuade them and mobilize them. That is the new reality.”
...A warning sign about young people’s political enthusiasm came out of Virginia’s governor’s race last year. TargetSmart, a Democratic data firm, found turnout among 18- to 29-year-olds dropped by just over a half a percentage point compared to the last gubernatorial election, even though Virginia worked aggressively in the last two years to expand access to the ballot.
Terrance Woodbury, another Democratic pollster, also stressed that he’s “not optimistic” about young people’s participation in the midterms, noting that Virginia’s electorate in 2021 was “11 percent older and 7 percent whiter” than in 2020.
“The key question we’re facing is if youth turnout in 2020 was driven more by opposition to Trump than strong enthusiasm for Biden,” said Tom Bonier, TargetSmart’s CEO.
But if operatives are just focused on who’s in the Oval Office, or on Biden’s approval ratings, they’re “not looking at the right data,” Della Volpe said. He pointed to the third of young Americans who said they still planned to vote in 2022, according to his December Harvard Youth Poll. That’s equal to what participants told him in spring 2018, ahead of the midterm when Democrats flipped the House. Since then, they’ve formed a voting habit over two elections, another indication that youth turnout might be higher in 2022.
But participation won’t happen in a vacuum. “Right now, they say they’ll vote — but if Democrats and Republicans ignore them, they won’t turn out,” Della Volpe said. “Right now, they’re looking to vote.”
It starts with communication, Della Volpe said, suggesting regular “check-ins” to update them on policy progress and citing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) disciplined cadence of Instagram posts as one example of this in practice.
Then, “empower them,” Della Volpe said. He noted that Democrats can sometimes stand in their own way in reaching young people because “they’re intimidated” and they “get weighed down in the transactional nature of politics.” Della Volpe pointed to the tack Biden took as he locked up the Democratic presidential nomination: “Say, ‘where do we agree with Bernie Sanders’ groups? Where do we agree, and what’s the process to get there?’”
Della Volpe listed a handful of policy areas where potential executive actions from Biden “would very quickly capture the attention of [young] people.” The list includes student debt, mental health, climate change and dealing with the rising cost of living.
“In large part, they have been following up on these issues, but it’s about extending the conversation in new and different ways to remind people that we’re not finished,” Della Volpe said, citing as one example Biden’s announcement of a mental health initiative during his State of the Union address.
Major progressive outside groups, though, think Biden can go much further. They argue that he should cancel student debt altogether or work more aggressively on his climate agenda.
NextGen America’s president, Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, said “young people want to see action, and that’s why we’re yelling as loud as we can, ‘please take action on student debt,’ because this is within the power of the Biden administration.” Last week, the Biden administration announced another four-month extension of the pause on monthly loan payments and interest.
“It’s been over a year of a Democratic trifecta and young people are really disappointed because not much has been accomplished around student debt or on ambitious climate goals,” said Ellen Sciales, a press secretary for the Sunrise Movement. “People are losing hope.”
Doyle Canning is running for an open blue seat centered on Eugene. She's the personification of a leader whose platform is built on the issues young voters care about and are inspired by. Her opponent, some hack political careerist backed by the entire party establishment is a guarantee that young voters will decide stay home and let the Democrats choke on their own vomit. I asked Canning about youth turnout in November. She told me that "Democrats are in real trouble with younger voters, and we’ve got to deliver in 2022 on the urgent issues facing younger Americans-- student debt, climate crisis, affordable housing. Here in my district, younger voters are the majority of the unaffiliated independents who will be the difference maker for Democrats in November. That’s why In our district electing a strong progressive who resonates with younger voters (who may stay home in the midterms if they don’t have a champion on the ballot) is the pathway to keeping Oregon in Democratic hands in 2022."
Progressive Montana former state Rep.-- and congressional candidate-- Tom Winter is working up a guest post on this topic for tomorrow but he told me this afternoon that "Young voters deserve a future. Previous generations could take that for granted, but due to their inaction on climate change and their mishandling of the economy, we cannot. We are begging the rich democratic establishment for action on climate change, housing inequity, voting rights…just show us that our future lives matter as much as your present prosperity."
So will the Democrats come up with a message beyond "The Republicans are Nazis?" or is the Democratic tent so big now that the party can't put together any compelling messages that don't offend part of the coalition. Even lower "drug prices" is like a condemnation of Blue Dogs and New Dems like Kurt Schrader (OR), Ed Case (HI), Lou Correa (CA), Scott Peters (CA)... And anything about real action on Climate is liable to get Joe Manchin to jump the fence and join the GOP. Fair taxes on multimillionaires and billionaires? Kiss Kyrsten Sinema goodbye as she rushes into Mitch McConnell's open arms. You don't have to be a weatherman...
Ruth Luevanos isn't a weather forecaster; she's a congressional candidate and a teacher and I naturally turned to her about this subject and would like to send this post with her thoughts (and The Offspring song below): "As a high school teacher, mother of two teens and a youth mentor for over 25 years I can tell you what this 'new' generation tells me about voting. While many of them are disullusioned about the many financial, environmental, social and educational challenges they face and the lack of support they have received they still have hope. And what they want is action, not just words. They will only be inspired to vote for someone who has invested their time and energy into fighting for them, listening to them and demonstrated their dedication to a better future through their actions. They want someone who is in touch with their needs and understands the challenges they face that previous generations have yet to address like climate change, healthcare for all, basic universal income, housing, living wages and educational debt. My kids, my students, my mentees want someone who acts, not just a talking head. Do you want young people to vote? Address their needs."