POLITICS -- August 3, 2010 at 5:00 PM EDT
Rock the Vote Looks to Overcome Youth Enthusiasm Gap by Midterms
Rock the Vote, a non-profit group that encourages and mobilizes young Americans to register to vote, announced Tuesday that it is mobilizing in five states for its biggest midterm election year voting drive since its founding in 1992.
Executive director Heather Smith said the group hopes to register 200,000 people, ages 18 to 29, to vote and will focus on the estimated 9 million people who have turned 18 since the 2008 presidential election and the one-third of the 2008 youth electorate who have moved and need to re-register.
The ground effort -- where Rock the Vote will try to engage young voters in person -- is taking place in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina and Colorado.
"Young people are still engaged but are waiting for an invitation to participate, and we are encouraging young people to participate," Smith said in a conference call Tuesday.
To reach their goal, Rock the Vote has created a voting registration tool that they let other websites use for free. Musical acts Jason Mraz, Green Day, Pink and Lady Gaga are using the tool on their sites to encourage fans to register. Their 2010 registration campaign will include registering young people to vote at festivals and concerts, as well as college dorms and high school classrooms. Rock the Vote is also launching LIVE.rockthevote.com - an online networking tool that helps people host their own Rock the Vote events.
Because 80 percent of young people have mobile phones and are communicating more online, Smith said that her organization has a unique ability to reach young people via online ads and tools.
Research suggests that Rock the Vote has a long way to go before the 18-to-29 demographic turns out to vote at a rate similar to that of older Americans.
The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or CIRCLE, is a nonpartisan organization based at Tufts University that studies youth participation in elections. (CIRCLE receives money form the Ford Foundation, which also contributes to the NewsHour)
CIRCLE's data show that in off-year elections, such as the approaching midterms, only about 25 percent of eligible voters, ages 18 to 29, cast ballots, compared to about half of voters older than 30.
In the 2006 midterms, 25.5 percent of the younger age group of Americans voted, compared to 53.7 percent of the older set. That pattern has held, with some variation, back to 1974, when 29.4 percent of young people voted compared to 54 percent of the over-30 crowd.
The 2008 presidential election youth turnout rate -- 51 percent -- was one of the highest recorded and similar to turnout in the 1972 and 1992 elections.
Smith said the midterm turnout slouch affects all age groups and that the lower-profile elections between the presidential cycles attract partisan voters while young people haven't developed a strong sense of partisanship, Smith said.
"They are new to the political process," Smith said of young people. "Combined with the fact that this age group is mobile -- a third has to go re-register. Older populations typically don't have to go through this because they are just more stable about where they live," Smith added.
Rock the Vote has a paid staffer in each of the five target states building volunteer teams to help register and mobilize young people. They have about eight weeks to meet their goal, Smith said, before many states stop accepting registrations in early October.