Pennsylvania Primary Youth Vote and the Need for More Youth Organizing

CIRCLE has crunched what numbers they could and here are the results from yesterday's primary:


There are a boatload of caveats that come with these stats.  First, looking at the turnout number (14%), it needs to be noted that this is a low-ball number.  CIRCLE doesn't just calculate the turnout within the Democratic Primary, they calculate it for the entire electorate.  Last night there were no exit polls for the Republican primary, making it impossible for CIRCLE to crunch the data on that side of the aisle.  So the 14% comes purely from Democratic turnout, but it's representative of the entire electorate.  If CIRCLE were able to add in data from the Republican turnout, that number would surely rise.

Second, because there were no exit polls at all done in Pennsylvania in 2000 or 2004, we have no data against which to compare these numbers.  We can, however, make a few very good guestimates.

What we do know is that turnout doubled in Pennsylvania last night, and that in 2004, the average youth "share of the electorate"was 9%.  So in a year in which turnout doubled overall, young people gained a 3% greater share of all voters than they did in 2004.  So youth turnout yesterday was likely more than double what it was in 2004.

As per usual, youth turnout also went heavily for Senator Obama.  According to CNN Exit polling, 18 - 24 year olds broke for Obama 66 - 34%.  Among 25 - 29 year olds the race narrowed, though Obama still carried the cohort 55 - 45%.

As I noted earlier in the week, Ohio and Pennsylvania are very demographically similar states.  If Obama was to win or be competitive tonight, he needed youth to turnout be a greater share of the electorate in PA than it was in OH.  That didn't happen.  In Ohio, the youth share of the electorate was 3 percentage points higher, at 15% (pdf).  There were likely a number of factors that kept youth turnout down.  

There have been some reports of problems at the polling place, but a greater problem was likely the fact that many students - who have made up a disproportionately high number of young voters this cycle - missed the registration deadline, which bumped up against spring break, or they voted absentee in their home state during the previous contests.  There is also the matter of brain-drain.  Pennsylvania is one of the oldest states in the country, in no small part due to the fact that young college graduates leave the state to find work elsewhere.  In other states, college-educated young voters have played a large role in boosting youth turnout.

While it's great news for Democrats, the Obama campaign, and youth activists that, in spite of those hurdles mentioned above, young voters turned out yesterday in greater numbers than every before, there was still room for growth.   Young voters in PA made up 21% of the eligible electorate, so young people still did not vote in proportion to their share of the population.  There was a 9% gap between what happened, and what was possible.  Look at previous contests and you will see that this gap has occurred time and again this primary season.  We've seen big gains - double, triple, even quadruple turnout - in every single state, but with the notable exceptions of Iowa and New Hampshire, these numbers have lagged behind young voters' share of the population.

Why is that so?

In Iowa and New Hampshire, which saw the largest share of the electorate and the largest turnout rate, respectively, among young people, youth organizers were moving full-steam ahead.  Every 501c3, c4, and 527 was on the ground working to turn out young people.  This has not been the case in the rest of the  primary contests and caucuses.  Progressive youth orgs just don't have the budget to run full youth campaigns during the primary season and no one thought this contest would go past February 5th.  We were all caught unprepared for this and the youth vote in the remaining states is not turning out  as much as it could be as a consequence.  

There's a strong argument to be made here that the Obama campaign, for all the incredible work that it has done in energizing young people, needs help.  It can't turn out the youth vote to the greatest degree possible on its own.  It will need the support of outside youth organizations like YDA, The League, Young Voter PAC and more.  If Obama donors who are maxed-out want to continue to help his candidacy, they could do a lot worse than directing some funds to these independent youth organizations that will be on the ground this cycle, and well after the polls close in November.

As I've said in my book and many times in the past, Millennials are a larger generation than the Baby Boom, and research shows that if you can get someone to vote for a party in their first three major elections, you can lock in their partisanship for life.  Getting these young voters out now is about more than the Obama campaign.  It's about building partisan loyalty and securing a progressive majority for the next 40 - 50 years.  That's a worthwhile longterm investment.

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Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics

Cross posted at Future Majority.

Since I've been traveling so much, I've taken the opportunity afforded by long plane flights to revitalize my reading habits.  So far I've read and reviewed Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody, and David Kinnaman's UnChristian.  I've been enjoying this chance to read again.  It's a good habit that unfortunately dropped well below previous levels as I worked on my book and struggled to juggle a full-time job and blogging.  I've been able to do a new book every 12 - 15 days, and hope to keep that  up through the spring and summer (no promises once the Fall gets here and the campaign really kicks into high-gear).

Most recently, I finished Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube and the Future of American Politics by Morely Winograd and Michael Hais.  Winograd is a former policy advisor to Al Gore, and Hais is a retired executive for communications research firm Frank N. Magid Associates.  Together, they've pooled their expertise and produced a compelling look at the historical, demographic, and technological trends that have shaped American political history, and how those cyclical trends might play out as the Millennial Generation comes into it's own as a force in American politics.

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The Emerging Progressive Leadership Pipeline

In discussing a new fellowship offered by the Open Society Institute, Josh Bolotsky of Living Liberally has written a vital post on Open Left about the emerging progressive leadership training pipeline.  Read it.

Here's an excerpt:

Like so much of the frenzied progressive infrastructure-building of the last few years, much of the netroots support for these types of activist-in-training programs comes from the often correct perception that given the huge amount of ground left to cover in catching up to what the institutional right has done, we better get cracking on "the progressive version of" whatever given aspect of conservative advantage we seek to emulate - if we can just start with our own progressive version, in other words, we'll be on the right track. As someone who spent time as the Chair of a major College Democrats state federation, I can anecdotally attest to the kind of forced comparison points you often hear from frustrated students - that Campus Progress is or should be "the progressive version of" Young Americans for Freedom, or the Center for Progressive Leadership is or should be "the progressive version of" the Leadership Institute, and so on. In other words, we're so frustrated at how far behind we are in the race that we're looking for the reflexive response, which is a counterpart above all else - just as we might look at, say, Air America Radio to be "the progressive version of" right-wing talk radio.

All of which is not just well and good, but, I think, quite necessary - it's wonderful that we are moving towards having these counterparts. But as a first step - then you start moving towards innovations.  All of which makes the choice of OSI to make eligibility open to all, student or no, all the more striking: along with projects like YP4's Young Elected Officials Network, it's a unique take on the format, one that isn't a reaction to any kind of adult-training-program that the Intercollegiate Studies Institute is cooking up.

The emergence of this new leadership training pipeline - particularly Young People For, DMI Scholars, and the Center for Progressive Leadership is something that I cover in my book, Youth to Power, as part of the "[dot] Org Boom." As I've been touring, I frequently get a question similar to the one Josh is asking - is it enough to replicate what the Right has done, or do we need to innovate?

Josh is right that imitation is not enough and we need to innovate and create better training programs more suited to the values of the progressive movement - at home and internationally.  He's also right that in some ways we're starting to move beyond that "first step" in building a leadership pipeline.

But I would add that in another, more basic way we are still on "step one," as Josh terms it.  I'm speaking in terms of scale and resources.  Organizations like YAF still receive far more monetary support from the conservative foundation world and donor class, and these organizations still have a much greater scope in terms of how many conservatives they train each year.  In 2003, the last year for which I have data (data which comes, btw, from Young People For, which completed a study of the conservative Leadership Pipeline), Young America's Foundation had a $12million budget.  The Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the Leadership Foundation each had $11 and $9 million, respectively.  All three of these organizations had at least $1.5 million in reserve.  That's money not earmarked for any program, but rather a mini-endowment to ensure the fiscal health of the organization should they suffer a decrease in funding.

Comparatively, the organizations cited by Josh, and covered in my book, have budgets that are less than 1/10th the annual budget of their conservative "counterparts." In some ways, we are moving beyond "step one" - mimicking the conservative infrastructure - but in others we do still lag frustratingly behind.  One of those areas is in the level of commitment we're seeing from progressive foundations and individual donors.

This is actually a problem larger than the emerging progressive leadership pipeline.  Almost all of the new youth organizations created in the last 5 years have faced serious funding crises since the initial boom.  Many of them spent 2005 and 2007 (non-election years) operating on shoe-string budgets and almost none of them are operating at full scale.  

There are a couple of reasons for this, some of which are reasonable and some of which are extremely troublesome.  The first reason - and an understandable one - is that donors have spent the last few years demanding a much higher measure of accountability, or Return on Investment (ROI) for their donations.  Youth organizations have had to work to prove that what they do is effective with hard metrics and independent research studies.  A related issue is that no one knows how effective it is to just dump money at "the youth movement." For every project that worked out well in 2004, there was another that bombed or had little to show for its efforts.  And many organizations that received significant funding boosts did not spend that money as efficiently as possible.  Some donors are indeed waiting to see what the balance is between their donations and effective/efficient movement to a higher scale of organizing.

The second reason, which is less acceptable, is that the progressive youth movement is still highly dependent on just a few donors who provide the millions of dollars that have made our current gains among young voters possible.  To them, I and other youth organizers are extremely grateful.  But it's unfortunate that the club of donors is so small.  The growing progressive youth infrastructure needs more supporters beyond the few that helped us get this far.  More progressives - young people included - need to be supporting the work of these groups.

This is a concurrent process - innovation and scale shouldn't occur separately.  But once this happens - once progressive youth groups have a donor base on par with their conservative counterparts - that's when I think we'll truly be out of "step one."

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Candidates Dis MySpace/MTV Viewers at Their Peril

On Saturday, MySpace, MTV and the Associated Press sponsored a live broadcast of candidate interviews with questions coming from young voters in the audience. Barack Obama was there on time, "fired up and ready to go." But the two leading Republican candidates, John McCain and Mitt Romney, failed even to appear. Hillary Clinton was late, forcing MTV to ad lib through fifteen minutes of otherwise empty airtime. These are hardly major blunders in the middle of a hectic Super Tuesday campaign schedule, but the actions of the candidates illustrated once more, why Obama is surging among an emerging generation of young voters.

This is not the first time Republicans have had a hard time generating much enthusiasm for campaigning for the votes of Millennials-- those 25 and under--who get much of their campaign information from social networks. It took two tries and the anguished cries of that party's leading bloggers before they agreed to a rescheduled YouTube debate. Even then, the GOP candidates insisted on seeing the questions in advance before answering them on live television.  With authenticity and transparency key traits that Millennials seek in candidates, this unwillingness to put it all out there continues to drive young voters into the hands of the Democratic Party.

In a January 2008 national online survey conducted by the Millennial Strategy Program of media research firm, Frank N. Magid Associates, 48% of Millennials say they expect to vote for the Democratic presidential nominee this November, while only half as many (24%) plan to vote for the Republican. By a similar 2:1 margin, Millennials also say that they're likely to vote for the Democratic over the Republican congressional candidate in their district (46% vs. 23%).

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Recapturing "Moral Values;" Realigning the Republican Party

I've got two, semi-connected threads in my head at the moment that I'm mulling over that have to do with how younger voters are/might influence the Republican Party.  The first has to do with what we normally think of as "moral values," and how young evangelicals might reshape the debate.

Over at Revolution in Jesusland, Zack Exley points to some very interesting data from the Pew Center on Faith and American Life:

Of all the people who say moral values are very important in deciding how to vote, less than a third (30%) are referring to the candidates' positions on issues, with by far the largest number (14%) referring to abortion. In addition, they mention gay rights (3%), that  marriage is between a man and woman (3%) and gay marriage (3%).  A few, but only a very few, mention homosexuality (1%), and stem cell research (1%).

The greatest majority (78%) of these voters mentions personal characteristics of the candidates including their honesty (28%), integrity (11%), ethical values (8%), and someone who does the right thing (8%), is trustworthy (7%), truthful (6%) or keeps his/her word (6%).

Pew Evangelicals
Evangelical Party ID

So there's that - a clear opening to recapture the meaning of "values" in our public debate.  I don't have statistics, but I'm willing to bet that this is reframing of values tends to play especially well among younger evangelicals, whose support for Bush, and the Republican Party, has dropped significantly in recent years, even as Bush has been very supportive of Christian Right culture-war issues like gay marriage, stem cells, and abortion.  

Instead, of supporting that agenda, what we've seen so far is young evangelicals supporting Mike Huckabee, a candidate who preaches something of an anti-poverty agenda, and wants us to be "good stewards of the earth," by 2 - 1 among young Republican voters.  Huckabee may have some hard-core christian conservative values, but he's also talking about faith and issues in a way that speaks to concerns beyond the culture wars.  These young, conservative evangelicals don't seem to care about culture war issues the same war their parents/elders in the church do.  Rather, they are much more interested in a different conception of faith in public life, particularly what it means in a social justice context.  So Huckabee's message resonates with them more than someone like, say, Fred Thompson.

The second strand is that this leftward movement on some issues isn't limited in scope to young evangelicals.  The 2006 American Freshman survey (pdf) revealed that there is considerable support among young conservatives for traditionally liberal positions on a number of issues, particularly the environment and health care reform (see the chart below).  

This has tended to manifest itself in two ways, I think.  First, in the support of young people for the candidacy of John McCain in New Hampshire, where 27%, a plurality of young voters chose his candidacy, and in the creation of new organizations like the Republican Youth Majority, a newish GOP youth group supporting a pro-choice, pro-environment, fiscal conservative platform.  

It's important to note that prior to Huckabee's surge in December and McCain's resurgence post-Iowa, Rudy Giuliani was consistently the favorite choice among young conservative voters (pdf).  Probably because all anyone knew about him was "9/11." Now that Huckabee has gained some traction and media attention, and is actively courting younger voters, and John McCain is perceived to be back in the race, Giuliani's support among younger voters seems to have dried up.  

So here's a thought - could the Millennial Generation conservatives move the Republican Party to the center/left?  Probably not anytime soon; with young voters choosing Democrats by a 2 - 1 margin, there are far too few of them to be all that influential right now.  But it will be interesting to see how they shape the GOP as they grow into power.  

Thoughts?  I don't have this worked out yet - not by a long shot - and this is probably an oversimplification of a number of trends among conservative youth and evangelical youth.  I'm interested in seeing/hearing people reinforce or tear down this idea.

Issue by Ideology

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