The upcoming 2010 midterm elections are sure to be nearly as historic as the 2008 presidential elections. Not because of any one candidate, cause, or slogan, but rather because of the unprecedented number and variety of newly registered voters that may or may not come out to the polls in November 2010. Sure--this potential for voter apathy is no new thing in American politics. But, when most of these voters turned out for one candidate who is no longer on the ballot and is instead sitting pretty in the Oval Office, they are uniquely ripe for the picking. Within this newly registered bloc, we have the young voters, those Americans who arguably have the most hinging upon many electoral outcomes.
In my last post, I discussed how American leaders are not reaching out enough to their young successors. Now, in my own opinion, I intend to point out a couple examples of characteristics one would find in an impressive youth outreach operation.
First and foremost, for candidates and campaigns to capitalize on the potential the youth voter bloc has to offer, they must develop a trusting relationship over a duration of time with these young voters. For the 2010 cycle, candidates can no longer expect skyrocketing voter turnout to inch them to victory over their opposition. Thus, it seems that regardless of party there is a tabula rasa between candidates and young voters.
Whether this seems unfair to the partisan eye or not, President Barack Obama portrayed himself as a leader that young Americans could trust. In a revolution for change, idealistic young Americans turned out in strong favor of his candidacy. As opposed to young Americans during the Reagan Revolution, these voters were not cynics, but rather idealists searching for a government and leaders they could trust. And, to an extent, Barack Obama and his Students for Barack Obama organization molded and facilitated this connection. Whether you would like to accept it or not, Barack Obama is president in significant part due to the connection he forged with young Americans and the trust they bestowed in him.
If candidates in 2010, whether on a state or federal level, want to reenergize the newly registered surge voters from 2008 (many of whom are young voters), they must develop this relationship of trust similar to how the president did.
Please note that this is not a partisan message. This is a non-partisan matter that could just as easily be developed for any party given the right circumstances--ones that can easily be forged, but must be well in advance to Election Day.
A skeleton outline of what I personally believe must be done and what we at Youthocracy are working with state parties and candidates to achieve is as follows: In the most basic of terms, every candidate that hopes to accomplish the above goal must have a youth-oriented website. This must be aimed at displaying their message in terms that resonate with young Americans and have tools to establish and maintain a trusting community with these voters.
Simply by having a website devoted to this bloc of voters, a candidate can do wonders to gain legitimacy amongst a bloc of voters that far too often writes candidates off before they have a chance to define themselves as "youth-friendly." In addition to this trusting connection that can be initiated where the youth live--the internet--candidates must also remember two things regardless of partisan affiliation.
1. There are certain political and demographic realities that exist today that are far different from any other time in this country's history. Millions of young Americans have never voted for a white man for president after the country has had 42 different, but all white, presidents. There is a certain social progressiveness that this generation has regardless of political affiliation that must be espoused in youth-friendly campaigns. And, this can be done without compromising a candidate's core values.
2. Young Americans yearn for common sense leaders that they can trust. This trust must be generated by bringing aboard young Americans onto crucial campaign and youth-related positions. Nothing will allow young Americans to trust a candidate more than seeing that candidate place a vested interest in their own generation. Sometimes, trust and connectivity is more important than personal ideology--as was proven in the 2008 election majorities amongst young voters choosing Barack Obama. While not all young Americans agreed with him socially or economically, the majority ended up voting for him. Why? Because of this trust and mutual connection.
Knowing these two things, candidates must act early and potently to ensure that young voter enthusiasm does not wash away with the end of the last election cycle. For the candidate that attracts the youth first will have them for the duration of the campaign.
In California, a state where the next elections truly affect the young more than anyone else, Gavin Newsom has already established a very impressive youth outreach operation. Maintaining these two principles, his Students for Gavin Newsom website (www.studentsforgavinnewsom.com/home) is completely youth-generated.
From this site, young Californians can ban together for a candidate that has created a community through capitalizing where the youth live (Facebook, the internet, Twitter). Conveniently, student volunteers can literally take significant action for their candidate and he himself can bank on having overwhelming youth support in both the primary and, if he's lucky, in the general as well. After all, have you ever seen general campaign issues formulated by the youth for the youth on a student-created issues page?
When it comes to youth outreach, more candidates should be like Mayor Gavin Newsom. More candidates should have the confidence to parlay resources into a generation that has proven itself enthusiastic, reliable, and potent. More candidates should yearn to create this trusting relationship with our generation through the techniques that Newsom has used so perfectly. And, when they do, they should prepare to see a wave of youth support once only dreamed of.
Surf's up to you, Gavin.