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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Keeping Young Voters Down-Ballot

If the only people allowed to vote in November’s election were those under 30, Barack Obama would have carried at least 40 states. He was the choice of 66 percent of America’s youngest voters.
That was no accident.
Early on in the campaign, the Obama campaign made a strategic decision to tap into that enthusiasm and develop followings among a range of demographic groups outside the typical Democratic coalition (or in many cases, first-time voters outside the political process altogether).
That decision paid off, and these supporters became the volunteers, the donors, and the voters who helped him win the primary against Sen. Clinton and ultimately become president.
Now is the time to ask whether the Obama model represents a sustainable future for the Democratic Party as a whole.
If you look at the data (much of which has been nicely compiled by the folks at Future Majority), many of the signs are encouraging. The youth vote partisan advantage has been trending toward our party for nearly a decade.
Voters of my generation — Millennials — in large part have an essentially progressive political outlook. Research done by the Center for American Progress backs this up:

  • Millennials are more likely to support universal health coverage than any age group in the 30 previous years the question has been asked, with 57 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds saying that health insurance should come from a government insurance plan.
  • Eighty-seven percent of Millennials think the government should spend more money on health care even if a tax increase is required to pay for it, the highest level of support in the question’s 20-year history.
  • An overwhelming 95 percent of Millennials think education spending should be increased even if a tax increase is required to pay for it, the highest level ever recorded on this question in the 20 years it has been asked.
  • Sixty-one percent of Millennials think the government should provide more services, the most support of any age group in any of the previous 20 years the question was asked.
  • Millennials are very supportive of labor unions, giving them an average ranking of 60 on a 0-to-100 scale (with 0 indicating a more negative view of labor unions and 100 being a more positive view), the second-highest level of support of any age group in the over 40-year history of the question.

Even with the liberal outlook and Obama fervor, however, there are questions about how deep their partisan loyalty goes.
Cornell Belcher — a pollster for the Obama campaign and the DNC — drafted a memo for Howard Dean just after the first of the year where he attempted describe the post-election landscape.
Midway through Belcher’s discussion of the new 2008 voters is an important nugget spotted by Michael Connery of Future Majority:

The surge among new voters of color was incredible. Thirty-eight (38) percent of our new electorate was either Hispanic or African American. It is becoming increasingly clear that the key to sustaining and growing our Democratic majority coalition lies with younger and more diverse voters who are clearly trying to turn the page. Younger white voters are far more open to supporting Democrats than their parents (whites under age 35 broke for the Democratic House candidate by +14 points in our polling), but Democrats must work hard to fully bring home these voters who primarily surged in support of Obama. Our post election poll data shows that Democrats down the ballot left a good number of younger votes on the table as 20 percent of voters under age 35 dropped off after casting a presidential ballot rather than voting for a House candidate. These younger and browner surge voters are, by and large, Obama‘s right now, not necessarily the Democratic Party‘s. If Democrats are to strengthen our majority coalition going into the off year, we will clearly need to reach and engage these voters with some party persuasion. Again, the Party must continue to aggressively build in the off year—the time to let up on the 50 state strategy is not now. We must expand upon it with a particular youth and minority focus.

Study after study indicates that early political allegiances tend to remain remarkably consistent even as we age, which bodes awfully well for Obama and for future Democratic presidential nominees. But what does that mean when one in five voters under 35 fails to finish filling outhis ballot?
Clearly, the party as a whole isn’t done cultivating the youth vote.

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