Oregon Special Kills Mass in Youth Turnout

Turns out if you do youth outreach in an election you have higher youth turnout.

If you read my take on the returns from the Massachusetts special election for the US Senate race then you know that Mass had some issues with reaching out to young voters. There was some confusion about who was going to do it.. or if it was going to happen... Someone even suggested the youth outreach was "well the President came..."

In the great state of Oregon we have a fantastic organization who has worked for years to get young voters to the polls, but also be engaged during years in between. The Oregon Bus Project worked the hell out of this special election and the results were noticeable.

In Massachusetts they had a turnout of 15% of 18-29 year olds for the special election. In the Oregon's special election about 24% turnout of youth voters (preliminary estimates from CIRCLE)


Caitlin Baggott from the Bus says that this is due to a few particularly important factors:

  • A year-round and multi-year strategy,
  • Populist messaging and policy development,
  • Budget (actually spending money on youth outreach)
  • And finally, which I'll expand on, a focus on field and youth turnout

When it comes to a meaningful field outreach campaign Caitlin points to two major elements

  • A strong field campaign matched with a strong media campaign. Oregon Student Association, the Bus Project, and the coordinated campaign registered 30,000 voters--primarily on campuses and youth-dense parts of Portland and Eugene. The campaign led a huge GOTV field program to knock on 300,000 doors. We all phonebanked the hell out of our lists. (The Bus got a "thank you" message today from a voter who decided to vote after getting 15 phone calls from us.)
  • We expected it to be better than VA and MA. We're hoping that the lesson for all of us in 2010 is that young people will vote if we (1) Re-Register them, and (2) invest in youth-oriented GOTV. OSA and the Bus executed a huge youth-focused voter registration program in Oregon, and the Bus did youth-focused mail, earned and paid media, and phonebanks. (Trick or Vote for the fall!)

So here's the thing. Do the outreach. Do it because it builds the party long term, but do it because, I don't care what state you're in... it will make a difference and it could make the difference enough to win your election.

Tuesday, was the Illinois special election and Julie Hamos who was running for Congress lost by 700 votes. She was a good EMILY's List candidate, a friend of mine was the field director, she was an incredible candidate. Instead of EMILY's List bundling money, or perhaps in addition to bundling money, what if the major independent expenditure from EL was that they mobilized young single women in that race the way Women's Voices Women Vote did in 2006 and 2008? How might that race have been different?

Elections can be won or lost by young voters if you know how to do the outreach. The trouble is teaching campaigns and candidates what to do and sell the field staff on investing in it. Last year when Organizing for America (OFA) first started, Future Majority posted speculating on meaningful youth outreach from the very top of the Democratic Party. Connery wrote:

"Where is Students for Barack Obama and Generation Obama in all of this? Considering all the props given to young voters by President Obama and (DNC) Chairman Tim Kaine, you would think that there would be at least some mention of how the youth element of the campaign will roll into all of this. The lack of information about youth engagement is peculiar. My fear is that such engagement work will be completely outsourced to USA Service, the independent entity that is getting spun out of the Obama campaign."

We've watched over the last year as the Democratic partisan infrastructure has done what it always does: zero youth outreach. The White House has done zero meaningful work with young people outside of asking them to serve their community or country in some capacity (though this is beginning to change, specifically with the Climate Change Bill). The House Majority remains the most interested in opinions of young people when it comes to policy, with good outreach from The Speaker and a few Committee Chairs that "get it." But youth specific orgs remain the only ones doing work with young voters and the Millennial Generation.

This week OFA sent out a video from David Plouffe. After the colossal youth fail in the Massachusetts Special Election (15% turnout), two of the highest priorities of OFA, only after the fact, is bringing first time 2008 voters back to the polls in 2010 and registering new voters.

For a year, we've been howling at the moon asking where everyone was with youth outreach. Saying, that if you don't continue to engage them, then it will be near impossible to get the same result without the Obama Campaign to do the outreach that was done in 2008. Now it seems they've all realized... oh no! we can't win without them.. turns out 24million of them showed up in 2008 over 60% for Obama....

I've heard these pleas before. Last July in fact:

After a speech from Rep. Chris van Hollen, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, where he begged a group of young people to help get out the youth vote in 2010. I asked him then what the DCCC was doing to teach their candidates about youth outreach. His response: We're showing our candidates the data, but its up to you. Not exactly the winning field plan that can garner results.

Crossposted from a blog that's been talking about this FOREVER: FutureMajority.com

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I was part of that 15% in Mass.

The youth turnout in Mass. was depressing but not surprising.  18-29 year olds are constantly moving around and I'm willing to be that many of them simply missed out on when exactly the election was taking place and failed to think of filing an absentee ballot ahead of time.  Many schools didn't return for a second semester until the week following the election.  That meant students who go to school in Mass. and registered to vote there wouldn't have been able to make it. I also think many might have taken the election for granted, that a Democrat would surely be elected to replace Ted Kennedy.

Thats my take on the logistics of why so many voters didn't make it to the polls in the first place.  In addition to that, the special election cycle itself was a complete circus and offered little for the 18-29 year old crowd to get excited about the candidate.  I could understand many just tuning it out after a certain point.  The media blitz made TV unwatchable and frustrating.

by Kyle Shank 2010-02-06 12:45PM | 0 recs
RE: I was part of that 15% in Mass.

That's the thing about a youth outreach program.  The most important is re-registration, second is the same kind of information that you would be hitting other voters with.  They'll see the adds on TV, they'll get pitched from campaigns, but they should also be part of the GOTV operation.  Everyone tunes out the TV ads and such, but the GOTV operation brings them out, and my guess was that there was no comprehensive program done here the way it was in Oregon where re-registration and GOTV were critical

by sarahkatheryn 2010-02-10 03:20PM | 0 recs

Wasn't the major goal of the Oregon campaign to avoid cuts to school programs and staff?  Obviously an issue that would resonate with younger voters who'd just been there and probably had brothers and sisters still in school.

Along the same lines, the Dems had better (1) finish reforming the student loan program, and (2) let people know about it.

by TL 2010-02-06 12:51PM | 0 recs


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