Many of us woke up Wednesday morning to what is probably one of the worst progressive political hangovers we've had in years. Yes, it was a stinging defeat. If there is one lesson we should learn, it is this: Young voters favored Coakley by almost 60%, but only showed up at a turnout rate of just 15%. Why? They weren't asked.
The biggest failure of progressives this year might not be how they blundered health care, didn't reign in the banks, or their failure to get cap and trade through the Senate. It will be their failure to not secure a voter bloc that could pay off by delivering them the majorities they need to truly bring about a new progressive era. With the millennial generation engaged for the long-term, policy fights like the public option could be considered small potatoes by time we make up a third of the US electorate in 2015. Simply put, we're a gift that keeps on giving. Or, at least, we could be.
If there is one thing we should have learned from 2008 it's that young voters will turn out (and will turn out for the candidates that propose bold, forward-thinking solutions rather than more of the same tired political hackery) if we invest in them. Instead, many seem to only talk about how the young voters of 2008 won't return in 2010, but this is only a self-fulfilling prophecy. Investing means spending real resources in registering, educating, and engaging them with messages and issues that resonate. The 2008 Election was like the gateway drug for politics. It's now our responsibility to make sure those first-timers get hooked.
Young voters are the only demographic that we continually don't invest in and then wonder why they don't care to show up on Election Day. The Obama campaign and several organizations like New Era Colorado, the youth civic engagement nonprofit that I run, conducted experiments in 2008 to study what works and what doesn't. The answers aren't anything too surprising: field programs that include a strong element of peer-to-peer outreach, nothing too partisan, and a lot of fun are highly effective.
In 2008, New Era Colorado registered over 11,000 new young voters across the state and 85.5% of them turned out to vote. We're not going to get a turnout rate like that in 2010--but when we see overall youth turnout rates like 15% (compared to 57% for those older than 30) in Massachusetts on Tuesday, it means we didn't even try.
Long story short: Stop talking and start doing. Kevin Simpson's article, "Inspired but Impatient," in Wednesday's Denver Post shows that young voters who surged in the 2008 elections still support President Obama and have the potential of coming back to the polls if they're courted.
The 2010 elections are 9 months away. That's plenty of time to do some courting. If they start now.
Progressives have a US senate seat, at least one congressional seat, and the governorship on the line--not to mention the opportunity to secure the loyalty of the largest, most diverse, and most progressive voting force since the baby boomers.
The 2008 Election gave progressives something akin to a silver bullet. The question is if they pull the trigger.
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