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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Radio Key for Motivating New Voters

Excited as all Dems should be by recent reports of dramatic increases in voter registration benefitting our party, it’s time to give serious thought to GOTV strategies to maximize turnout of these new voters on November 4th. Registration percentage is the most reliable predictor of voter turnout — the more voters registered, the higher the turnout. So we have already gained a significant edge, assuming the Republicans don’t produce an equivalent uptick in registering their base in the months ahead. But that doesn’t mean we can’t gain an additional edge with a concerted effort to get more of these new voters to the polls.
We don’t know precisely who these new voters are. But many of the registration campaigns in different states have targeted young voters, particularly college students. Other registration campaigns have targeted African and Latino Americans. The motivated voters in all demographic groups are going to get to the polls without much encouragement. But if previous patterns prevail, as many as 40 percent of the newly-registered voters won’t vote — if nothing is done. In 2004, for example, nearly 60 percent of registered voters went to the polls, according to the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. If we can increase their turnout/rv ratio up to 70-75 percent, it just might make the difference in a close race.
Many newly registered voters who may not vote on election day have transportation problems. The polls may be too far away and/or they don’t have a car. or they don’t know where the poll is located. Others may be time-challenged — having to pick-up the kids, fix dinner, work late etc. Some may be energy-challenged, just too dog-tired to make the effort.
Early voting can help get around such ‘convenience’ issues, provided the voters are informed about how they can do it with a minimum of hassle. There should be a major push — make that an unprecedented effort — to inform new voters in the 28 states that permit no-excuse absentee voting by mail about early voting opportunities.
The internet is a great medium for reaching many of these voters, especially college students. In a recent Pew poll, 42 percent of young people said they learn about political campaigns from the internet, up from 20 percent in 2004. Internet ad revenues are expected to surpass radio ad revenues for the first time this year, reports Rudy Ruitenberg of Bloomberg.com. Yet, television still rules as a source for political information, and 60 percent of respondents in the Pew poll said they get “most of their election news from TV,” although it’s down from 68 percent in ’04 and ’00.
But television time is expensive, and not all young people or low-income voters have daily access to the internet. Radio may be the most cost-effective medium for reaching newly-registered voters, not only for informing them about early voting opportunities in their communities, but also to motivate them to get to the polls on election day. Radio reaches more than 210 million voting age listeners every week, according to Jeff Haley, president of the Radio Advertising Bureau, and, more so than TV, it reaches voters at useful times — the wake-up alarm, driving to work, at work, at lunch and driving home — pretty much all day, until the polls close.
High as we all are on the power of the internet as a tool for transmitting political information and motivation, a more substantial investment in radio ads could hold the key to victory in November.

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