Everyone seemed to understand the “weight” that Latino votes would have on the direction of this year’s elections, but I’m not sure enough emphasis was placed on America’s youth and the effects they (we) could have on the 2012 presidential election. The title of this U.S. News article, “Without Youth Vote, Obama Would Have Lost the Election” summarizes the implications this segment of the population had on his campaign. This Politico article states, “Obama easily won the youth vote nationally, 67 percent to 30 percent, with young voters proving the decisive difference in Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Obama won at least 61 percent of the youth vote in four of those states, and if Romney had achieved a 50-50 split, he could have flipped those states to his column.” As made clear in this article, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Florida were states in which young voters were “essential to the President’s reelection coalition.” These states represented 80 electoral votes, sufficient to have made Gov. Romney the next president of the United States had he appealed to this demographic. I’m interested in learning why America’s youth, particularly ages 18 to 24, have had such low participation rates. Additionally, I want to understand some of the tactics Obama utilized to better leverage this segment of the population.
In an article written by Ceridwen Cherry, it is stated that “compared to Americans of all other age groups, eighteen- to twenty-four-year-olds are registered to vote at significantly lower rates.” To put this into context, “during the 2008 election only 58.8% of eighteen- to twenty-four-year-old citizens were registered to vote compared to the national average for all ages of seventy-one percent.” Cherry makes the point that young adults are inexperienced politically and lack what political scientist John Strate deems “civic competence.” Strate believes political experience comes with age, which ultimately leads to increasing levels of civic and voting participation. Without this “civic competence,” young citizens may need extra assistance or increased motivation and sense of accountability to participate in elections.
Perhaps Obama was ultimately more successful in “overcoming” civic competence than Gov. Romney. Obama’s campaign tactics including celebrity endorsements, massive get-out-the-vote efforts, and a significant and powerful online social media presence could have been what inspired motivation and accountability in Obama’s favor. In an article written by Austin et. al, it is stated that “social associations” can be critical “…[to] building trust that leads to civic engagement.” Additionally, it is made clear that “outreach strategies that tap into these connections” are particularly useful in rousing civic participation from younger generations. Obama’s use of celebrity endorsements and appearances on late night talk shows (such as Jimmy Fallon) could be considered an “outreach strategy,” that allowed for him to tap into the “social associations” mentioned in Austin’s article.
Austin states, “Outreach strategies that tap into these [social] connections, whether through real-life relationships or through aspirant reference groups, therefore would seem likely to succeed [in promoting civic engagmement], particularly given the findings that consumption behaviors and civic participation can develop in tandem.” Obama’s efforts to connect with youth through pop culture appearances provided the perfect avenue for him to recruit and relate to young voters.
Lastly, new media such as Facebook, YouTube, blogs, etc. have served as a force allowing Obama to build and disseminate his message of change and hope to younger voters, particularly those ages 18 to 24. Aside from Howard Dean’s presidential campaign, Obama was one of the first nominees to harness the power of social media in an effort to garner the support of a younger generation of voters. As pointed out in this article, Obama’s use of new media has “been a major contributing factor in building up President Obama’s brand and rock star-esque status while simultaneously drawing more youth of legal voting age into the process.” These new communication forums have “helped [him] build a strong fundraising machine, register voters, and increase the youth voting bloc.”
Emphasizing the impact that young Americans had in this election would be a great way to continue to promote political support from a group that has historically been disengaged from the process. As the Politico article points out, it is clear that this is a voting bloc that can no longer be considered an “afterthought to any party or campaign.” America’s youth made up approximately 19 percent of the voting electorate in the 2012 elections, which is the largest involvement from youth in a presidential election that the U.S. has ever seen. It is clear that Obama did a better job targeting this generation of voters. He avoided the problem of “civic competence,” by tapping into relationships and utilizing online resources to encourage engagement and to establish the “social associations” and networks critical to building trust.