Motivating 71 million twenty-somethings to get out and vote was a field once dominated by such efforts as Rock the Vote and MTV’s Choose or Lose campaign, which base their appeal on the cachet of Hollywood celebrities, high-profile Democrats and musicians.
A dozen new groups have entered the fray, winners of the first national competition to develop innovative, nonpartisan initiatives to register the 18- to 29-year-old set. Wooing the young has become an exacting but promising science.
“Generation Y is large, increasingly active and up for grabs politically,” said Christopher Arterton of George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, which coordinated the contest and announced the winners yesterday.
“Parties should take note. In today’s evenly divided electorate, whoever wins over young voters today will win close elections in the short run and likely be the party in power in the long run,” Mr. Arterton said.
Young voters seem to be on a roll. More than 20 million voted in the 2004 election, up 11 percent from 2000 and the greatest increase since the age group won the right to vote 35 years ago. The competition winners — who receive grants from $50,000 to 250,000 each from the Pew Charitable Trust — have specific strategies in mind.
California-based Mobile Voter, for example, bases its entire outreach on creative text messaging for mobile phones, noting in its mission statement that American political parties have only made rudimentary use of the “native tongue of young people.”
Alabama-based Redeem the Vote, meanwhile, plans to engage young Christians in the political process with Gospel tracts printed on voter registration forms and the music of faith-based rock bands advising participants, “Why should you bother to vote? Because it is your responsibility as a Christian to participate in your community.”
The Close Up Foundation will team up with high school teachers to register students right in the classroom, while the League of Young Voters will stage “parties at the polls” to register youth on Election Day. Women’s Voices, Women Vote has targeted single women, while the Black Youth Vote will focus on young people displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
The Allegheny College Center for Political Participation, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, Building Blocks/Building Votes, Center for Civic Participation, National Council of La Raza, Redeem the Vote and State Public Interest Research Groups also won grants.
“The 2004 elections proved that if you ask them, they will vote,” said Heather Smith, who coordinated the contest. “The competition will build on that momentum in 2006 and refine youth-outreach methods.”
The young voting bloc could make up a quarter of Americans by 2016, according to the university. A 2004 Harvard University analysis of the group found it to be almost equally divided among Republicans, Democrats and independents.