Friday, November 5, 2010

An Optimistic View of the 2010 Youth Vote

photo: waiting in line to vote @ UC Irvine, 2008

Given the awesome work that organizations like the Student PIRGs, the Sierra Student Coalition, Rock the Vote, HeadCount and others did to get youth out to the polls this year, I was curious to know how it all turned out.

By closely reviewing the Exit Poll stats on the CNN website, I discovered:

The age demographic most supportive of House Democrats? 57% of voters ages 18 -29 voted for the Democrats.

The age demographic most supportive of Senator Barbara Boxer? 62% of voters ages 18 - 29 voted for Boxer.

Yet CIRCLE's statistics show that overall turnout among young voters (ages 18 - 29) was down this year compared to the country's last midterm elections, in 2006 (20.9% vs. 23.5%). However when looking back upon previous turnout rates, it's still pretty consistent (turnout was 23.9% in 1994, 23.6% in 1998, 20.9% in 2002.)

Also keep in mind that CIRCLE's statistics cover overall turnout - but the organizations that I mentioned above were not active in every precinct. If you take a closer look at the precincts where organizations were actively looking to turn youth out to vote, you'll find results that'll make you smile!

photo: HeadCount & Rock the Vote share a voter registration booth @ Lollapalooza 2010.

The Student Public Interest Research Group has chapters (Student PIRGs) on college campuses. The Student PIRGs were active on 75 college campuses in 18 states, in preparation for Election Day.

On Sept 29, at Florida State University in the Free Speech Zone in Oglesby Union, students suited up in superhero attire helped fellow students register to vote. After registering the students got their pictures taken in the super voter phone booth. I discovered that Arizona students ran a similar drive back in 2008. “The theme of our campaign is Superhero Voting because with great power comes great responsibility,” said Whitney Kraner, Arizona Student Vote Coalition campus organizer.

On the same day at Harry S. Truman College in Chicago, volunteers wore sandwich boards that said “I’ve got a feeling…” on the front and “that you need to register to vote” on the back. Inspired by the Black Eyed Peas song, it was a mobile event/flashmob intended to catch students as they walked through the campuses main building on their way to class.

At the City College of Chicago, student leaders organized a baseball-themed registration event that encouraged students to step up to the plate and register to vote. Each registration scored a homerun for their favorite team - White Sox or Cubs.

At AZ State University's Tempe and Polytechnic campuses, the Arizona Student Vote Coalition, Arizona Students Association, and Arizona's University Student Governments teamed up to register students "Jersey Shore" style. In "Fist Pump to the Polls" students registering to vote were provided with hair stylists and spray tans.

More college campus voter registration drive stories here.

Then on election day, the University of Montana Student PIRG chapter members pushed their fellow students to the polls in shopping carts.

photo: Election Day @ University of Montana

At the University of Pittsburgh, PennPIRG’s New Voters Project and the Sierra Student Coalition's Reenergize the Vote campaign were present on campus for months, to try to get students to the polls on Election Day. The organizations used phone calls, texts, canvasses and campus events. As a result, poll workers were asked to bring in four additional voting machines, and four more poll workers to handle an unexpectedly high volume of student voters. Students waited in line for 45 minutes to and hour in order to cast their votes. Volunteers with Trick or Vote bags talked to voters waiting in line while handing out candy, to keep would-be voters' spirits up. Other groups brought in donuts and pizza, and helped implement systems to improve the lines.

So how did the student and organizations' efforts turn out?

Check out an excerpt from this Advocates for Youth blog post:

Vote tallies from youth-dense precincts where Rock the Vote aggressively targeted young people such as Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida, showed voter turnout amongst those ages 18-29 exceeded 2006 levels.

In Pennsylvania, we saw a 25% increase in votes cast over 2006 totals in the nine most youth dense precincts in Philadelphia that we aggressively targeted for voter registration and peer-to-peer contacts. In addition, partner organizations such as the Student PIRGs saw a 35% increase in votes cast at Temple University (Ward 20/ District 9). Youth-dense precincts at North Carolina Central University and the University of North Carolina showed a 100% increase in votes cast from 2006 where Rock the Vote invested resources on the ground. The precinct at the heart of the University of Florida campus increased votes cast by 45%.

See Rock The Vote's campus stats here.

Also check out this awesome video from California State University, Long Beach:

I also enjoyed the below, taken from this Washington Post story:

Zero - The number of newly elected Republican senators in genuinely contested Senate races (excluding, therefore, those like North Dakota's) who carried voters ages 18 to 29.

Republicans may have picked up seats in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Wisconsin, and held them in Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio, but young voters in those states voted Democratic. Even in Ohio, where Republican Rob Portman beat Democrat Lee Fisher by 18 percentage points, Fisher won the youth vote 49 percent to 45 percent.

In the national exit poll on House voting, the Republicans lost the 18-to-29-year-olds by 17 points, and did better the older the voters got.

So ... one of the morals of the story? Have hope!

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