Republicans Win All Age Demographics but Under 30; Young Voters Resist Wave, Candidates Miss Opportunity

An angry, older electorate erased the Democratic majority last night, but the nation’s young voters – who buoyed the swell of participation in the historic 2008 races – emerged from the contests largely immune to the agenda driven by conservatives celebrating victories. According to exit poll data, under-30 voters were the only age demographic to vote for Democrats, with the youngest voters (18-24 year olds) giving Democrats a 19-point margin.

“Candidates in both parties failed to really engage young people in their races.  Republicans failed to attract increased numbers of young voters, and it could have been a very different outcome for Democrats had their candidates implemented the lessons from 2008’s winning playbook,” said Rock the Vote President Heather Smith. “In the precincts where Rock the Vote and other groups invested in young people, we saw an increase in turnout. There was no ‘enthusiasm gap.’ It was a ‘leadership gap.'” 
Vote tallies from youth-dense precincts where Rock the Vote aggressively targeted young people such as Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida, showed voter turnout amongst those ages 18-29 exceeded 2006 levels. *See precinct totals here.

The shortfall in young voter turnout from 23.5% in 2006 to 20.4% in 2010, according to Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement’s (CIRCLE) analysis of exit poll data, is a result of what happens when candidates and campaigns fail to reach and engage young people and ask them for their votes.

There can be no doubt the enthusiasm young people showed in 2006 and 2008 provided a foundation on which to increase turnout compared to the last midterm election. The playbook was written — register young voters, engage them in meaningful dialogue on the issues that affect them – and they will vote.  Ignore them and they will not.  This election proved that it takes more than President Obama, whose name wasn’t even on the ballot, to turn these young Americans out.

“With high unemployment and rising personal – and national – debt, young Americans face real challenges and what they saw from candidates and outside interest groups was largely disconnected and irrelevant to their lives and concerns,” said Smith.  “It wasn’t just that campaigns didn’t pay enough attention to the generation that will shape our country’s future; what they did actively turned off people looking for solutions. The partisan bickering and negative ads targeted to older, angrier voters simply does not motivate youth participation.”

Despite this lack of attention from candidates and campaigns, Rock the Vote connected with thousands of young voters this midterm cycle through registration drives on-the-ground and online that generated over 300,000 voter registration downloads. Rock the Vote also enlisted the help of hundreds of volunteers to conduct critical get-out-the-vote events on campuses and in communities nationwide.

Where we invested it worked.  In the few youth-dense precincts where mobilization efforts were made in some of the country’s most hotly contested state races, Rock the Vote and other groups proved that investing in young voters, as showcased most prominently in 2008, yields results by expanding the electorate.

In Pennsylvania, we saw a 25% increase in votes cast over 2006 totals in the nine most youth dense precincts in Philadelphia that we aggressively targeted for voter registration and peer-to-peer contacts. In addition, partner organizations such as the Student PIRGs saw a 35% increase in votes cast at Temple University (Ward 20/ District 9).  Youth-dense precincts at North Carolina Central University and the University of North Carolina showed a 100% increase in votes cast from 2006 where Rock the Vote invested resources on the ground. The precinct at the heart of the University of Florida campus increased votes cast by 45%.  *See precinct totals here.

Rock the Vote will continue to build on this proven field and digital model, striving for new ways to engage young voters, and continuing 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.  We believe in this generation and they believe they can change this country.  The work to bring their conviction to fruition at the ballot box will continue.

About Rock the Vote |

Rock the Vote engages young people in our democracy and builds their political power by registering, educating and turning them out to vote, by forcing the candidates to campaign to them, and by making politicians pay attention to youth and the issues they care about once in office. For 20 years, we have used music, popular culture, new technologies and old-fashioned grassroots organizing to engage and mobilize young people to participate in every election. By providing them with the information and tools they need since 1990, Rock the Vote has registered more than 5 million young people, including more than 2.5 million in the historic 2008 election. In 2010, Rock the Vote has logged more than 300,000 voter registration downloads as part of the largest midterm elections outreach strategy in our organization’s history.