Journalist Cheat Sheet: Ten Tips for Reporting the Youth Vote

It's getting rather tiring, correcting one shoddy media report on the youth vote after another.  This really came to a head for me this weekend when, less than 24 hours after forcing a young UNLV student to ask Hillary Clinton whether she preferred Diamonds or Pearls, CNN un-ironically aired a piece during The Situation Room that made a mockery of young voters and their participation in our electoral process.  

The hypocrisy reeks.

You can read a great take-down of the CNN piece here.  But this problem is larger than CNN and Wolf Blitzer's questionable reporting and producing skills.  As much as we like to bash the media for shoddy he said/she said journalism, their work (or lack of it) is ten times worse when it comes to reporting on young voters.

So I created this "cheat sheet" for journalists.  This is a listing of all the most common mistakes that the media makes when reporting on young voters, along with my own well-sourced rebuttals.  Enjoy.  Spread widely, and please use it as a reference whenever you read something or write something about young voters.

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Youth Polling Update

It's been a long time since I've posted an update on youth polling, and I think this is long overdue.  This is from the latest in Rock the Vote's bi-monthly series (pdf) polling young voters.  Overall, not that many surprises.  Despite the media narrative and potentially impressive ground game of the Obama campaign, Hillary continues to lead the pack among young voters.  

A word on methodology; it's notoriously hard to poll young voters, so what Rock the Vote does is take many polls - Rasmussen, Pew, RT Strategies, CBS/NY Times, etc. - over the course of two months and uses all of them to build a picture of the youth electorate

Highlights include:

  • 77% 18-29 year olds are paying attention and watching the debates.  This compares with an average of 64% for the entire electorate. (Rasmussen)

Generic Ballots

  • On the generic ballots (Rasmussen), Democrats hold a 16 point lead over the Republicans (55 - 39) in the Presidential race and a 30 point lead over Republicans in the generic Congressional ballot (57 - 27).  There was a slight decrease in support for both parties in this Congressional ballot.  It's (probably - actual MoE is not provided) just outside the margin of error so it may represents an actual decline in support for both parties, which would make sense seeing as Republicans policies that were voted against in 2006 are still in effect and the Democrats have been ineffective at mitigating them.

  • On the hypothetical Presidential match-ups, Democrats continue to dominate for the most part.  What was interesting is that Clinton routinely wins by larger margins among 18-29 year olds against all Republican opponents, and both Barack Obama and John Edwards actually lose among young voters when pitted against Giuliani, who has long been the Republican favorite among young voters in these polls.

  • Within the Democratic Primary, the polling confirms trends I've written about extensively.  Data culled from PEW shows Clinton leading Obama and Edwards nationally among 18-29 year olds 42 - 32 - 6%.

New Hampshire

  • Most young voters in New Hampshire will be voting in the Democratic Primary (45 - 32%; 24% not sure), and they are choosing Clinton by what I eyeball at about 45 - 20 - 10% (RtV provides graphs, not hard numbers within the polling report.).  On the Republican side, Giuliani wins among young voters with about 37% of the vote compared to about 22% for John McCain.

  • The poll also confirms the conservative streak in Gen X.  They are the only demographic in which more voters plan to vote in the Republican than the Democratic primary.


  • In Iowa, Hillary is dominating among 18-29 year olds (Rasmussen), with 40% of their vote compared to about 23% for Obama.  Interestingly, Obama walks away with the Generation X vote, beating Hillary by 33% - to about 24%, and when CBS/NYTimes looked at Iowa, Obama won the under 45 vote.  It appears more and more that Obama is not the candidate of Millennials, but of Generation X, in so far as that demographic votes Democratic.  Considering that they are the most conservative generation in America, what does that say about Obama?  Is he "safe" because of his "post-partisan" appeal?

South Carolina

  • Rock the Vote is also providing our first look at South Carolina for young voters, and it's neck and neck for Clinton and Obama, with Hillary holding a slight edge of about 41% - 39%.  Since I'm sure that's within the margin of error, we've got a statistical dead heat.  The trend of Gen X choosing Obama also carries over to South Carolina.  Obama is cleaning Clinton's clock among 30-39 year olds by about 51% - 35%.

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Ill Communication: Progressive Youth and the Netroots

At Open Left, Matt Stoller is picking a fight with the Young Democrats.  At issue is a letter sent by YDA to its membership, thanking the Democratic Congress for achieving progress on many issues of concern to young voters (as cataloged in a report by Speaker Pelosi).   Stoller's issue is that the letter was sent at the same time that the Democratic Senate was Sista-Soujaing MoveOn (and by proxy, the anti-war movement) for an ad it published leading up to testimony by General Petraeus.  

Stoller's beef is that this demonstrates a lack of coherent strategy on the part of YDA, and that their "letter to congress" represents an unhealthily sycophantic allegiance to the Democratic Party.  In a pretty over-the-top move, he's calling for their funding to get cut.  That's a huge overreaction and Stoller's argument is narrow in that it is limited to this one event and misses the fact that, while many YDA members are against the war, YDA as an organization has different goals and objectives that only partially overlap with those of MoveOn.

The Young Democrats main objective is not to carry water for MoveOn, but rather to engage young people in Democratic politics, keep those members excited and engaged, and to push the Democratic Party to pay attention to young people.  This has been unphill battle for YDA, and for many youth institutions.  It's hip and popular to talk about the power of Millennials and the civic engagement of young voters these days, but even a year ago most Democratic Party insiders were extremely skeptical as to the value and reliability of the youth vote.  Despite our contributions and gains in 2006, that is still the case in some areas where YDA chapters fight with the local parties.  

Earlier today, I spoke with Tony Cani, the Political Director for the Young Democrats about the issue.  

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Identity and Strategy on the Campaign Trail: Generation Obama and Women for Hillary

An observation about the Clinton and Obama campaigns, they way they are organizing their base supporters, and what it means for the identity and inclusiveness of their campaigns.  

On Thursday I received my first email from Clinton's Youth Director - Emily Hawkins.  The email asked that I send an eCard to my friends and family on Women's Equality day in honor of the struggle of the Suffragettes.  It was a good email, and a good tactic to grow their list.  I remember reading in a number of places in 2004 that appeals to historical struggles like the Civil Rights Movement and Women's Suffrage are powerful motivators when engaging people in politics - particularly younger people.  

This email, however, didn't come from Youth for Hillary or Teens for Clinton or  any other such group.  It came from Women for Hillary, which has been the primary constituency group associated with the campaign for months now.  Nothing against Women for Hillary.  They certainly deserve their own group and a prominent place in the campaign.  As Hillary's strongest base, it makes sense to try and maximize their participation - particularly considering the prominent role that young single women played in 2006 (pdf) and are expected to play in 2008.

But, between grumblings I heard months ago that the Clinton campaign was ignoring the efforts of its young grassroots supporters, and its continued lack of an organized campaign to engage ALL young voters, I must confess that as a constituent (I live in NY) and potential supporter, I'm feeling incredibly left out and let down by the Clinton campaign.  The continuation of this extremely narrow appeal feels very mid 90s and interest-groupish - all the things I dislike about politics before 2003.  Where is there space for someone like me in the Clinton campaign?  

All this stands in stark contrast to the word coming out of the Obama Campaign this weekend.  While I was stewing over that email, I also started to receive Google News alerts about Generation Obama - a new program launched by the Obama campaign to expand their successful youth organizing beyond students to encompass all young people.  The launch received little media attention except for a positive piece in a Wired blog (a Google News search yields just 15 articles), but it's an important step for the campaign.  

Polls have shown that Hillary's youth support (if it is in fact more substantial than low-information young voters going with who they know) stems primarily among non-college youth.  The launch of GO puts Obama into competition for the hearts and minds (and votes) of that consituency, which, as Matt Singer notes, has very different concerns than most college or post graduate students, and is in fact much larger in size.  More germane to this post, it opens a space in Obama's campaign for all supporters to organize - not just one constituency.  It's also incredibly responsive to the concerns of its own "youthroots." 

So it seems that Obama is running an inclusive campaign, meant to appeal to a wide swath of the American public  (particularly among youth), while Clinton is running a much more targeted campaign that intentionally excludes roughly half of the populace in their organizing strategy and messaging.  That might be a somewhat unfair characterization (and to be clear, I'm not at all implying any sort of discrimination on the part of the Clinton campaign) but there is some truth in this and it leaves me wondering.  

Should Clinton win the nomination (the most likely scenario), what will this strategy mean for all the grassroots engagement we're seeing from the Obama campaign - particularly among young voters?  How do you transfer that energy and engagement from one campaign to the other when the winning campaign doesn't even acknowledge the varied support that comes from the Millennial generation?

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Republican Brand Officially Crashes Among Young Voters

A new research report (pdf) from Democracy Corps outlines in exquisite detail (god I love schadenfreude) the collapse of the "Republican" brand among young people:

Better Job

Here's some other interesting findings:

  • A generic Democrat currently beats a generic Republican 57 - 39%.
  • In the more specific showdown of Guiliani vs. Obama or Clinton (the three most popular candidates among young voters), the Democratic lead among likely voters narrows only slightly to 55 - 40% .
  • They study marks pocketbook issues - jobs, debt, the economy, etc. - as the most important issues to young voters.  Even more important than the war, Daruf, or climate change.  Democrats will need to speak to - and produce results on - these issues if they are to maintain this advantage and, indeed, potentially increase it. Fwiw, I don't know that I buy this. Democrats just ushered through the biggest college assistance bill since the G.I. Bill, but Congressional approval is still in the tank. Economic issues may rank highest in a survey, but Iraq is the most visible issue in the media. W/o progress in Iraq, do domestic policy victories matter?
  • The authors note that Democrats' advantage is the result of the diverse makeup of the Millennial generation.  Among young white males, the Republicans still hold an advantage over Democrats.

More on the candidates and specific Demographic breakdowns:

Dem Margin 2008

There's lots more to look at in this study, but I'm banging up against some book deadlines and the looming Yearly Kos convention, so won't really have the time to dig deeper.  But I encourage everyone to check it out.  It's a pretty short, but info-packed, report. Also - a methodological note: this survey is of likely voters, and also took pains to oversample young people of color, and those who don't have landlines (via cellphone and online polling).

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