Civics & Politics The Environment Health Economics Social Issues Full Archive
NOW on Demand
Week of 10.3.08

MTV and the Youth Vote

NOW on PBS talks with Ian Rowe, senior vice-president of strategic partnerships and public affairs for MTV, about young peoples' enthusiasm for participating in the 2008 election and what MTV is doing to motivate them. Rowe is overseeing MTV's presidential election coverage and its Choose or Lose campaign to mobilize young voters.

NOW: Many are calling 2008 the year of the youth vote. Do you think youth votes will have a substantial impact on the election?

Ian Rowe (IR): We absolutely think that this will be the year that young voters turn out at the polls and make a substantial difference in the outcome. If you look at the primaries alone, young people are turning out to vote. More than ever, young people are seeing that our next President will directly affect their daily lives. From rising gas prices to watching their friends and family members go off to war to seeing a rise in global warming and environmental issues, young people can directly see how the policies by the next president in office will make a direct impact on their lives.

"81 percent of our audience is closely monitoring this election, as compared to 58 percent earlier this year."
IR: MTV's research shows that 81 percent of our audience is closely monitoring this election, as compared to 58 percent earlier this year. Young people are paying attention to the issues and see the importance of this election. We absolutely think that will translate into increased numbers at the polls on November 4th.

NOW: What lessons did you learn about youth voting patterns in the primaries?

IR: The youth turnout at the polls this year was historic, [in some cases] quadrupling turnout from previous years. This year, 6.5 million young voters under the age of 30 turned out at the polls for the primaries, which is a dramatic increase from previous years. Over the last three election cycles, the youth vote has continued to rise consecutively, and we think this year will show even greater turnout than in 2004, which was the greatest in more than two decades.

NOW: How are your tactics different from getting the youth vote out in 2004?

IR: For MTV's "Choose or Lose" campaign, we've approached the 2008 elections differently than past years in a number of ways. One, it's critical that we reach young voters on a variety of media platforms. From on-air to mobile to hosting forums with presidential candidates on MySpace, Choose or Lose has made it a point to reach young people everywhere they are, online and off.

We also created and launched the Choose or Lose Street Team '08, a group of 51 specially-recruited citizen journalists from each state and Washington D.C. This team of young reporters has been on the ground covering youth issues from the beginning of the year with live mobile-to-web coverage, highlighting issues across the country that are important to young people on a local level.

We're also approaching our efforts differently by wrapping ourselves around a core issue that's important to our audience. Recent MTV research found that nearly 70 percent of young people personally know someone who has fought in Iraq or Afghanistan. The war in Iraq and young veterans' issues are extremely important to the younger generation. To bring veterans issues to the forefront, MTV recently teamed up with Kanye West to tell the stories of returning veterans in a documentary called "Choose or Lose & Kanye West Present: Homecoming." The one hour special featured Kanye West and MTV's Sway Calloway, turning up unexpectedly at recently returned Iraq war veteran's homes to hear their stories.

NOW: What has been your most successful strategy to get people registered to vote?

"It's become crystal clear to young people that who is elected President matters, and that their vote can and will make a difference."
IR: It's all about helping young voters stay informed on the issues they care about most and reinforcing the fact that their vote not only counts, but is critical in determining the future of the country. Choose or Lose aims to engage, inform, and empower young voters on the political issues that matter most to them. We've found that doing this through a variety of methods, from our Choose or Lose Street Team reports to featuring Senators McCain, Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Governor Huckabee and Representative Paul taking unfiltered questions —in person and online, in real time —from youth nationwide in its MTV /MySpace Presidential Dialogue Series was most effective.

From September 20th through Election Day, the MTV channel "environment" will be branded Choose or Lose, including text crawls that communicate voter registration deadlines state by state to ensure young adult viewers know the rules for their locality. Every single day leading up to the election, we will be reminding young voters about their respective voter registration deadlines, and about the early voting that is now happening in more than 30 states.

NOW: What has been you biggest challenge in signing up young voters?

IR: We've found that many times, the difficulty of registering to vote or in obtaining absentee ballots can keep students away from the polls. We aim to make it as easy as possible for students, and to provide as much information to them in one place on For example, mtvU, our 24-hour college network, has partnered with, which gives students one place to log on and find detailed information on how to register to vote absentee for their home city. We also have a page devoted to all of the voter registration deadlines, and provide easy information on how to register to vote online through Declare Yourself, our voter registration partner.

NOW: Which issues are young people most interested in?

IR: We're seeing that the economy and the war in Iraq are the most pressing issues for young people.

NOW: Where do young people get their information these days?

"We're seeing that the economy and the war in Iraq are the most pressing issues for young people."
IR: Technology is greatly affecting the way young people receive news and information. With so many sources available on the Internet, I think young people are incredibly intelligent in the way they gather their information and form their opinions. They are getting their news from multiple platforms —including mobile, TV, social networks, and their friends. They aren't trusting any one news source, but gathering information from a variety of sources. This is one of the reasons we built as a multi-media social network where young people can view "top-down" political news content produced by MTV News, but also share their own stories and opinions by uploading video, audio, photos and blogs of their own.

NOW: What's the biggest misconception about young people and their motivation to participate in our democracy?

IR: The greatest misconception is that the younger generation is apathetic toward the process or think that their vote won't matter. This is entirely untrue. Elections are no longer an abstract concept. Whichever side of the fence they're leaning toward, it's become crystal clear to young people that who is elected President matters, and that their vote can and will make a difference. Most people are not aware that nearly 22 million 18-30 year-olds voted in the 2004 election. 2008 promises more dramatic increases in youth voter turnout.