This is the first of several articles I intend to write about a path forward for the Democratic Party because it is the only viable option for American progressives. For the purposes of getting elected, progressives and Democrats are currently synonymous in American politics; in fact I will employ the word “we” often in this series. That itself is part of the problem which I will explore in more depth in this series. Let’s begin to explore.
The basic ground rule of this series is to concentrate on the areas we have control over. There is little doubt in my mind that things like Russian interference and some basic prejudices played a part in the outcome, but those are not factors we can control. It’s like blaming a loss on a bad call by an official late in the game when your team had a lousy night from the free throw line.
Where available I will look at good, hard statistics. (In fact that was the catalyst for today’s article – more about that below.) As is my custom, I’m in the midst of reading related books on the topic; (more about them in the future.)
Some good numbers recently became available about turnout in my home state of North Carolina in 2016. North Carolina is important because it is perhaps the most difficult of the swing states for Democrats to win, but it is still winnable. It is also a state that going into the 2016 election was in total Republican control. (In 2016 Democrat Roy Cooper was elected Governor, but both chambers of the state’s General Assembly still have veto proof Republican majorities.) As you would expect with total radical Republican control the voter suppression efforts were in super high gear. If nothing else it meant that Democrats had to fight confusion which suppressed voter turnout especially among young people and African-Americans; two groups that vote disproportionately Democratic. This is not a complaint; it is a factor beyond control (except for voting the Republican incumbents out). Today I want to concentrate on young voters.
Our problem is not the people who vote against us; it is the people we failed to sufficiently motivate to get to the polls. More registered voters who are predisposed to vote our way always helps and registering them should be a major component of any national or statewide campaign as well as a priority for every local and state Democratic Party. In a perfect world (which doesn’t exist) we already have enough registered Democrats and persuadable independents if we could only convince then to vote. 763,000 Democrats and unaffiliated did not vote in 2016 while 756,000 registered Republicans were no shows.
The problem of no shows is greatest among young people. Only 53% of registered voters under 25 actually cast a ballot. Less than 60% of 26-40 year olds voted in 2016 in North Carolina. Confusion over voting laws and rules along with fewer early voting sites and days certainly contributed to this, but that is currently beyond our control. If you spend the entire off season harping over a bad call you aren’t going to win more games next season.
What is within our control is messaging those younger voters. I see two problems: the message and the medium. Let’s briefly look at them in reverse order.
We are simply not doing a good job of communicating to young people on the communication mediums they are paying attention to. They don’t respond to flyers in their mailboxes and they are not watching much network television. Campaign consultants and operatives love those channels of communication because they are in their comfort zones and they know how to make money off them. Flyers and network TV ads work with older white males but not with their grandchildren. I read the flyers (and then often use dirty words); my adult granddaughters throw them in the recycle bin. (They are both registered to vote.)
When we do reach them much of our message doesn’t touch the issues that motivate them. In my opinion, the youngest among the under 40 group holds the greatest promise for America since my late father’s generation (The Greatest Generation)! They sincerely care about everyone being treated fairly and equally while being provided with the opportunity to be successful. They are more concerned about doing good things for their fellow man than about making a few thousand dollars a year more.
When we get to the older portion of the under 40’s you can add the issue of oppressive student debt. The older under 40’s are often married with jobs, kids and mortgages so many of our well covered issues start to resonate with them. Voter suppression efforts that entail making access to the polls more difficult does effect this group because they are simply busy with time spent outside the home. So those voter suppression efforts have to be fought; however in order to do that effectively we have to get our candidates elected in the first place.
Just as our economy is evolving in what I call a second industrial revolution so is the way we communicate. Today’s candidate must still use traditional mediums to reach older voters but ignore new methods of communication at their own peril because they will fail to motivate younger voters. This is especially perilous for Democrats who need those younger voters the majority of which are predisposed to vote for Democrats if we can only get them to the polls.
There is so much more on this topic and even with regard to young voters. I will be writing about it from time to time over the next few months. Win or lose, after a game you have to first look at what you could have done better. This is especially true after a loss. In 2016 (as in 2010) we got our butts kicked!
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