Students like me have been crying for years that they don't have a voice in politics. I tried changing that this summer by blogging at Campus Progress, but most of my readers were other students who, like me, had been crying for years that they don't have a voice in politics. So I'm excited to start writing for a broader - my nice way of saying older - audience here at the Huffington Post.
I'm glad Arianna and her minions have given me an opportunity to bring a student perspective to the table, and it's nice to see the folks at YearlyKos and Take Back America devote entire panels to young bloggers and activists. But the progressive movement must do more to engage young people. This isn't another one of those "pay-attention-to-us-students" rants. I'd hate to beat such a dead horse in my first post. My appeal to progressive politicians to reach out to young people is not, "Don't you care about us, the future of our country?" as much as "Don't you want to win?"
Last month everyone was talking about the results of a New York Times/CBS/MTV poll which showed that young people overwhelmingly lean left and are pumped to vote for a Democratic president in 2008. "Duh," was my initial reaction. "Everyone knows we crazy kids are hippie liberals." But I'm worried the party establishment is going to react the same way, taking students' support for granted and focusing campaign efforts on older swing voters.
You might say that's because they vote and students don't. The cycle that leads to low youth voter turnout will sound familiar: young people vote in lower numbers than the general population so politicians ignore them, which turns off young people from politics so they vote in even lower numbers and politicians ignore them even more. Dems in Congress took a great step towards halting this cycle when they passed much-needed legislation to make college more affordable earlier this summer. Now they better make sure they get credit for it by focusing on youth voters in the upcoming elections.
There are always groups trying to boost youth voter turnout through registration drives on campuses and mobilization campaigns. Leading up to the 2006 elections, for example, the Student PIRGs' New Voters Project registered 75,000 students to vote and made 94,000 "personalized Get Out the Vote reminders." But the key to solving low youth participation rates - just 25.5 percent of eligible voters under 30 made it to the polls in 2006 - is for campaigns to engage young voters.
Political parties and advocacy groups spent $3.9 billion on the presidential and congressional elections in 2004. Nonpartisan organizations, meanwhile, spent just $40 million on youth voter mobilization campaigns and more than doubled turnout in their targeted precincts. Campaigns stand to reap incredible benefits by investing just one percent of their funds to turn out young voters.
If Democrats know what's good for them, they'll do just that.