Engaging younger voters: the long-time puzzle

[Front paged: NM]

When I was a college student in Boston nearly 20 years ago, the "Rock the Vote" efforts were in full swing.  We were courted by the House of Blues, there were concerts, people tried to make it hip and trendy to vote -- and young people mostly didn't turn out.

They still mostly don't.  Only about 20% of people 18-25 are regular voters; by comparison, about 90% of people over the age of 65 are.

Does it matter if they do participate?  Yes.  They can change the outcomes of elections, from the Presidentials down to the local races.  We could have had President Gore, President Kerry, Congresswoman Burner, State Senator Ward, and Representative Willard, to name a few, if we had figured out how to get more young people engaged, registered, and voting.

But we need to figure out how to engage them.

Let me give you some numbers to put it in perspective.

In the 8th District, there are about 53,000 people between the ages of 18 and 24 who are eligible to vote.  About 31,000 -- or rougly 3/5 -- have registered to vote.  So we start with about 22,000 people who could vote who aren't even registered.

How do we get them registered?  (New 18th birthday gift: a voter registration form and a copy of a mixed CD Krist puts together with songs by major artists extolling the virtues of participation?)

Of the 31,000 who are registered to vote, about a third (10,000) of them have never voted in any primary or general election.

Another third (10,000) have voted in only one general election.

And the remaining third are participating, having voted in more than one election.

So how do we move young voters along the spectrum towards fuller participation?

Unregistered people 18-24 = ~22,000 (~40%)
Registered non-voters 18-24 = ~10,000 (~20%)
One-time voters 18-24 = 10,000 (~20%)
Regular voters 18-24 = 10,000 (~20%)

How much of a difference would another 32,000 voters have made in 2006 in the 8th District?  Well, the margin in my race was only 7,341.  There were other close races inside the 8th as well, like Yvonne Ward and Karen Willard in the 31st Legislative District. (Imagine a Roach-free legislature!)

How do those numbers compare with the people at the other extreme -- the folks 65 and up?

Well, there are roughly 62,000 people over the age of 65 who are eligible to vote in the 8th, and 61,506 of them are registered.  About 3,500 of them have not voted at all recently, while 42,000 of them have voted in every single general election since 2000.  So apples-to-apples:

Unregistered people 65+ = ~0 (~0%)
Registered non-voters 65+ = ~3,500 (~5%)
One-time voters 65+ = ~3,500 (~5%)
Regular voters 65+ = ~53,000 (~90%)

Across the entire age spectrum, the older you are, the more likely you are to vote.  But if we can figure out how get younger people more engaged, they can make a big difference in elections.

So I'm looking for ideas -- and volunteers!  Let's brainstorm.  Surely we can figure this out. :-)


< Progressive Candidate Joins 2008 Democratic Field | 500 march for Responsible, Neighborhood-friendly Development >
Display: Sort:

Thanks so much for bringing this topic up!

One of my favorite parts of the 2006 elections was the point that Kinky Friedman was making during his independent run for governor in Texas. While I didn't like Kinky much, <a href="/">I liked this</a>:

Convincing People to Vote: We think that it's not Kinky Friedman vs. Rick Perry. It's Kinky Friedman vs. apathy. If we get a big turnout, I win. Almost everybody agrees with that. The last thing Rick Perry wants to see is a big turnout. That's the last thing he wants to see. And that's a shame because our elected leaders ought to want to see democracy in action -- instead of the last turnout, which was 29.3 percent. For governor! $100 million spent, 29 percent vote. It's sick. If we could get it up to 40 percent, I'm governor.

It would be nice for a politician to say "getting people to vote" is a main part of their campaign, just like lowering taxes or building more roads. I'd like to see a candidate say during a campaign "Voting is the most important thing, participation is the most important. If you're thinking about voting, vote. Vote for me or not, but just vote."

I don't think people who don't vote actually believe that.

I blog here.

by emmettoconnell on Thu May 17, 2007 at 06:38:49 AM PST

* 1 none 0 *

Want to increase the youth vote? Work with kids.

In the 34th District there is a wonderful, long-active group called West Seattle Democratic Women. WSDW has the active support of the District organization. I even had buttons made that say "Real Men Love West Seattle Democratic Women."

They are more than a ladies' lunch group. They have begun a scholarship program at West Seattle and Chief Sealth High Schools that awards money for the best essay on the First Amendment.

This year they are expanding that to include Southwest Youth and Family Services, which has citizenship classes for recent immigrants, and GED support.

There is no "magic bullet" for increasing the youth vote. One-shot, contrived, patronizing  efforts will not do it. It will not do simply to tell young people that we care. We will have to show them, on an ongoing basis, in areas that matter to them, and not just to us.

Democratic Party activists will have to be involved in youth activities in their respective communities on a day-to-day basis, while ALL THE TIME IDENTIFYING THEMSELVES AS ACTIVE DEMOCRATS.

WSDW plans a dinner with a Mexican theme to fund its scholarship program at the White Center Eagles September 8 or 9 (I'll post the date when I get it).

In other related news, Dina has become active in Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and we are making a concerted effort to get more of our members into tutoring programs that serve high-school-age residents. Even though these programs are supposed to be nonpartisan and nonpolitical (as if), we find a way to let the kids know who we are.

Politics, after all, is so much more than what you see on TV.

If perception is reality, then the world must be flat and the sun must revolve around it.

by ivan on Thu May 17, 2007 at 07:58:05 AM PST

* 2 none 0 *

I think the main reason that young people are not involved in politics is rather simple.  Young people mostly believe that their vote doesn't matter.  They don't have any concept that the people who get elected are capable of accomplishing things.  They tend to believe that government is run by special interests and moral nannies who will always just do what they want.  There's simply an enormous amount of cynicism among young people about government.

I can't say for sure whether or not it's worse than generations before.  I know that when I was a registered voter at 18 (in the early 90s), I was certainly a rarity among my peers.  But I still have a lot of that cynicism with me.  I continue to have a very negative view of both political parties, even though I support Democrats almost entirely.  The average young person overwhelmingly sees Republicans and Democrats as being mostly the same.

If you want a suggestion for how to win over younger voters and distinguish the Democrats as the better party, let me suggest two issues.  If Democrats take up these issues, it will go a long way towards showing 18-24 year olds that government actually can function for them.    

  1. Eliminate the federal drinking age and allow the states to set their own drinking age.  There's probably no issue that creates more distrust of our government than this.  The 21 year old drinking age is the first introduction that young people have to the fact that they have no weight when it comes to governance and that politicians are useless.  Both political parties support this utterly insane federal rule.  All the while, more American young people drink themselves to death than in any other country.  

  2. Repeal the online gambling ban (Barney Frank is trying to do this in Congress right now).  This ban is another great example of how nanny state overreach that alienates young people and makes them very cynical about government.  

The bottom line here is that Democrats can make tremendous inroads among young people by making it very clear that they stand apart from the Republicans on issues of individual liberty.  The traditional counterargument to this is that these issues will drive away older voters.  If there's polling that shows this, I'd reconsider, but I doubt it.  These are issues that older voters simply don't care about enough for it to factor into their decision-making, but it would go a very long way in showing young people that there is a difference between Republicans and Democrats, something they simply don't believe (and have little reason to believe) today.

by thehim on Thu May 17, 2007 at 01:52:27 PM PST

* 5 none 0 *

Sounds flippant, but perhaps not.

Q. Why do old people register and why do they vote?

A. Because it matters to them.  Or more exactly, the issues they believe the elected officials can affect matter to them.

So, the crux of the matter if young people need to feel that the issues that affect them matter, and that by voting they can affect the politics related to the issues.

It starts by winning over young people to the fact that elections matter, politicians make decisions that have an effect on their lives, now or in the near future, and that by voting they can affect the outcome on elections.

So what are the issues that matter to young people?

Jobs and job security?


The war?

Health care?

More disposable income?

More time off from work?

Who will win American Idol?

On The Road To 2008: Countdown to the next opportunity to change the direction of America

by Daniel K on Thu May 17, 2007 at 04:09:33 PM PST

* 6 none 0 *

If each and every active voter picked just one young person to mentor into voting, within a couple of decades we could double participation among voters under 30. And in doing so, permanently change the political debate.

Pick just one person who is about to turn 18. It could be a friend, one of your own kids, a relative, whatever. Download a mail in voter reg form for them from: http://www.secstate.wa.gov/elections/register.aspx

Fill it for them out as far as you can.
Don't forget to check the absentee box!
Stamp and pre-address an envelope to:
Office of the Secretary of State
Voter Registration by Mail
PO Box 40230
Olympia, WA 98504-0230

Personally deliver the dang thing to them and watch as they finish completing it. Mail it for them at least thirty days before the election.
Mark your calendar with a reminder.

When you get your own mail in ballot, call them up to confirm that they have gotten theirs. Remind them to vote. Check back in a couple of days. If they haven't yet completed their ballot, ask them why. Ask them if they have any specific questions about the election and their choices. Advise them on where they can find answers. Be friendly, but nag.
Repeat this every single election until they turn thirty. At that point it's time for you to choose a new victim, but not before passing along the obligation of voter mentoring to the now firmly established habitual voter.

Regular, active voting is a discipline. It has to be instilled the same way any other discipline is instilled. Practice and repetition.
And recruiting young people into voting is a discipline as well.
It won't happen overnight. And it won't happen because of a cleverly designed marketing campaign or carefully vetted talking points.

by Mark Cooley on Thu May 17, 2007 at 07:54:35 PM PST

* 7 none 0 *

  They know who they are :)

Dave Gibney Pullman

by gibney on Fri May 18, 2007 at 12:28:24 PM PST

* 28 none 0 *

... by the minute. They can't afford expensive plans. Then there's internet access, where maybe they're using the library. I'm so glad voting is so important! Every politician has gotten together to exclude themselves from virtually every regulation and even harassment law.

Maybe they are voting! You just don't get it!

Maybe there are other things more important. Look let's not bring sex into this, what with blowjobs in the oval office and all.

But maybe, maybe, there has to be some way (and the public policy apparatus fails on this one, too) to say that the issue which is always important (but never most important) deserves your attention... once in a while.

by m3047 on Fri May 18, 2007 at 07:02:16 PM PST

* 36 none 0 *

  • oh please... by m3047, 05/18/2007 07:31:12 PM PST (none / 0)
Why not strategically put issues on the ballot that will motivate the target voters to act? Republicans put anti-human stuff on the ballot. Democrats put livings wage issues on the ballot. Etc.

What would motivate someone under 30?

Tax break for new families buying their first house? (We're brainstorming here... I can barely remember when I bought my first house and have no idea what the current game is. )

Decriminalize personal file/music sharing?

Underage arts and entertainment venues? (The VERA Project is great. I grew up here. I remember how youthfulness was akin to being a criminal.)

It occurs to me that my ideas are largely about transferring power and autonomy from old farts to the youth. Power naturally concentrates. Without active redistribution, the youth are increasingly disempowered. So engaging youth has to be a policy decision (commitment).

by zappini on Fri May 18, 2007 at 08:37:39 PM PST

* 44 none 0 *

I've read a little bit about voter turnout. Nothing about youth turnout specifically.

My current understanding is that more people vote when they think their vote matters. So the more competitive the races are, the more people will vote. This is the basis for competitive redistricting, eliminating the electoral college, etc.

I'm fresh out of ideas for turning that into a strategy to booth youth turnout.

by zappini on Fri May 18, 2007 at 08:43:09 PM PST

* 45 none 0 *

I've been busy working with young people.

I assume I'm still welcome to post a comment.

There are, as pointed out, many ways to involve young people. As a teacher, I'd like to recommend service learning projects as a way of teaching students the value and effectiveness of civic participation.

Some years ago the Seattle School Board wisely enacted a policy that requires high school students to complete 60 hours of service learning. However, the range of projects that Seattle schools offer students is uneven, at best. One concrete way to improve civic participation among students is to improve the quality of service learning projects in our schools.

Service learning is really community service plus classroom study. At Center High School, for example, an inspiring Humanities teacher, Jonathan Granados-Greenberg, leads his 11th graders in a state legislative project every winter. The students choose a bill, research it, petition their fellow citizens on the streets, send their petitions and letters to their state representatives, and lobby their representatives in Olympia.

Students typically walk away from this project more knowledgeable about the legislative process than most citizens. They typically feel the power of engaging directly with elected representatives and experience first-hand the possibilities of influencing legislation. Why don't more teachers take on such projects?

The reasons for this are complex, but part of the problem is lack of leadership from the district in educating teachers about what kind of projects they can offer students. The district should hold a district-wide service learning conference for teachers. It should be held annually, and teachers should be given incentives for carrying out such projects.

This year I had the good fortune to be in the Senate gallery when the bill my students had worked on came up for consideration. I've never seen students so riveted, so focused and so excited in my career. They reacted intelligently and passionately to the debate. After the bill passed, they were able to confer with their representatives about its chances in the House.

This is the kind of experience that, I think, can have a lasting effect on young people. But teachers--who are already in the position to lead without having to run for public office--have to take the initiative to guide students in discovering their own potential for adult leadership and responsibilities.

by DWE on Sat May 19, 2007 at 08:29:20 AM PST

* 46 none 0 *

someone I know tried to get the 14 - 17 yr olds thinking about math by thinking about their future by thinking about careers by thinking about skills ...

  • the day of the job for life is gone, (even though most adults won't acknowledge it)

  • YOU are going to change jobs ( willingly or unwillingly - even though most adults won't acknowledge it)

  • the job market has been most rewarding to those with hard skills for 30 years ( even though most adults won't acknowledge it...)

  • get skills to have opportunities for YOU (so if you get fired / laid off you can walk out the door, not look back, cuz you were looking when you found that job - no crying on the front steps or at the front gate - go get a better job!)

due to an implentation which was out of alignment with the realities of today's un-reality known as high school in america

someone, the new teacher, had parents screaming for the head of the new teacher. (s/he saw all the emails to all the district pooh-bahs from all the high maintanence parents)

someone went back to the district stuff for now ... yawn.

I know that on the copy machine, everyday, I see left over stuff that teachers are using as they are trying to get our kids enagaged in the world around us.

I, personnally, feel that too little of the population, from adults to kids, understand the financial implication of every rule change which the big boys impose on us the peee-ons cuz too little of the population has the math / money skills to make a quick model of what the rule change takes out of an individual pocket and out of our collective pockets.

the big boys making the rules changes know what it will cost each peeee-on, cuz the big boys are figuring how much will go into their pocket from the pockets of the peeee-ons.

So, if we had more money / math literacy, we'd have more marches on washington / oly. We'd have everyone streaming to the committee hearings with their crackberry spreadsheets demanding their .85 cents a day BACK from that Boeing / GE welfare program...

they'd be streaming in and screaming, demanding that .85 cents a day times 365 days times 300 million people = 93 billion bucks

demanding 93 billion get invested in our classrooms? health care? granny care? parks? food safety inspections?

... how to get the young engaged?

Idealism is a great motivator, but

frankly, I think selfishness is the angle to work because with selfishness you get a better chance of people dumping their sheeple costume and standing up and taking part in more than chewing the cud and getting sheared.

please send the decoder ring back from modor!



by rmdSeaBos on Sun May 20, 2007 at 08:31:25 AM PST

* 52 none 0 *

Display: Sort:











Seattle Port Commission
Environmental Issues






Challenging the Corporate Media Blockade

Watch Live or Archived Shows:
Seattle SCAN
South End PSA



Photo courtesy of photographer/thankyoult.org







Inspired by Rob McKenna's Fake Attorney General Letterhead
GIF of Letter






Make a new account


Recommended Diaries

Related Links

+ Darcy Burner's Diary

Washblog RSS Feeds

Local Media

Coastal/Grays Harbor
Aberdeen Daily World
Chinook Observer
Montesano Vidette
Pacific County Press
Willapa Harbor Herald
KXRO 1320 AM

Olympic Peninsula
Peninsula Daily News
Bremerton Sun
Bremerton Chronicle
Gig Harbor Gateway
Port Orchard Independent
Port Townsend Leader
North Kitsap Herald
Squim Gazette
Central Kitsap Reporter
Business Examiner
KONP 1450 AM

Sound and Islands
Anacortes American
Bainbridge Review
Voice Of Bainbridge
San Juan Journal
The Islands' Sounder
Whidbey NewsTimes
South Whidbey Record
Stanwood/Camano News
Vashon Beachcomber
Voice Of Vashon
KLKI 1340 AM

North Puget Sound
Bellingham Herald
The Northern Light
Everett Herald
Skagit Valley Herald
Lynden Tribune
The Enterprise
Snohomish County Tribune
Snohomish County Business Journal
The Monroe Monitor
The Edmonds Beacon
KELA 1470 AM
KRKO 1380 AM

Central Puget Sound
King County Journal
Issaquah Press
Mukilteo Beacon
Voice of the Valley
Federal Way Mirror
Bothell/Kenmore Reporter
Kirkland courier
Mercer Island Reporter
Woodinville Weekly

Greater Seattle
Seattle PI
Seattle Times
UW Daily
The Stranger
Seattle Weekly
Capitol Hill Times
Madison Park Times
Seattle Journal of Commerce
NW Asian Weekly
West Seattle Herald
North Seattle Herald-Outlook
South Seattle Star
Magnolia News
Beacon Hill News
KOMO AM 1000
KEXP 90.3 FM
KUOW 94.9 FM
KVI 570 AM

South Puget Sound
The Columbian
Longview Daily News
Nisqually Valley News
Lewis County News
The Reflector
Eatonville Dispatch
Tacoma News Tribune
Tacoma Weekly
Puyallup Herald
Enumclaw Courier-Herald
The Olympian
KAOS 89.3 FM
KOWA FM 106.5
UPN 11

Ellensburg Daily Record
Levenworth Echo
Cle Elum Tribune
Snoqualmie Valley Record
Methow Valley News
Lake Chelan Mirror
Omak chronicle
The Newport Miner

The Spokesman-Review
KREM 2 TV Spokane
KXLY News 4 Spokane
KHQ 6 Spokane
KSPS Spokane
Othello Outlook
Cheney Free Press
Camas PostRecord
The South County sun
White Salmon Enterprise
Palouse Boomerang
Columbia Basin Herald
Grand Coulee Star
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
Yakima Herald-Republic
KIMA 29 Yakima
KAPP TV 35 Yakima
KYVE Yakima
Wenatchee World
Tri-City Herald
TVEW TV 42 Tri-cities
KTNW Richland
KEPR 19 Pasco
Daily Sun News
Prosser Record-Bulletin
KTCR 1340 AM
KWSU Pullman
Moscow-Pullman Daily News






Democracy for Washington tool to email legislators by committee
WA House
WA Senate



Medicine Takeback Program
Return unwanted and expired medications for free and safe disposal.