For years now, we've been trying to convince young people to take voting seriously. We've used all kinds of methods, but the most effective has been showing up where they like to hang out and talking to them face-to face about participation in democracy. This means sending thousands of volunteers to concerts and festivals all over the country, using the same grassroots marketing techniques that touring musicians such as myself have employed for decades.
But mostly, when it comes to the Midterms, three quarters of the people we're trying to reach stay home. And that's one of the reasons we have a Congress with an approval rating of 15% on the high end, and a reelection rate hovering around 90%. As part of my job as the co-chair of the voter registration organization HeadCount, I'm on the street talking to people about their feelings, taking the political temperature of the concert-attending demographic. I hear the same things over and over, no matter who I speak to. We've all heard it by now: "Why pick the lesser of two evils?" "There's no difference between the parties." "These people represent corporations, not people."
I've been guilty of accusing those who don't show up for the Midterms of apathy, and I've had considerable push-back on the subject from fans. The truth is, there are intelligent, well-spoken, educated people who just don't feel represented by the politicians in Washington; a lot of them.
Is there a solution?
The rate of incumbent reelection starts to make sense when you examine the numbers. As pointed out in aWashington Post article by Chris Cillizza, only one in three people even know the name of their representative. That smaller population segment is more likely to favor their own Congressman, and most likely to show up and actually vote for them.
If only 35% of the people even know who their own representative is, then there is a major disconnect between members of Congress and the communities they are representing. Perhaps politicians need to spend a little more time getting to know their own communities and a less time pandering to the corporate interests in Washington that are funding their reelection campaigns.
It can also be argued that this is simply an issue of options. The two-party system leaves many people, not seeing a valid choice -- someone who inspires them, and someone they feel will have their interests at heart. Right now, two thirds of all people believe that congressional leaders don't care what the voters in their districts think.
This is a complex problem, and there may not be one single solution. But it starts with everyone at least doing their small part to help. In order to enact real change, everybody is going to have to contribute where they can. For the average citizen, voting is probably the easiest way to be a part of the solution.
For musicians, we have an opportunity to take just one small step further, and using our social media channels to engage the public in a deeper conversation. And as a non-partisan, non-profit organization, HeadCount takes on the bigger chunk of trying to organize it all.
On Election Day, about 300 artists and public figures will take to social media, posting photos of themselves holding artwork that says "#GoVote" and prompting their fans and followers to debate and interact. Some of the reactions will surely be ugly, but that's the idea. It's about tapping into people's anger and framing the whole conversation around voting.
Rasmussen Reports' newest data suggests that only 23% of likely voters think their representative is most well-suited for the job. It indicates a wave of anti-incumbency gaining steam, and it's coming from both sides. If this data proves accurate, we may be on the verge of a tipping point.
For things to really change, young people are going to have to channel their disillusionment in the voting booth. We hope the "#GoVote" campaign inspires such action, and each picture is worth a thousand votes.