Winning Young Voters: Part I

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How to Talk to Young Voters

Rock The Vote

The question of “how to talk to young voters” is not that different than how to talk to voters in general: talk to them about your plans to tackle the issues they care about, what you’ll do for them and their communities if elected, and ask for their votes.

However, young adults do view issues, politics, and life a little differently than their parents. here are some tips for how to relate:

Rock the Vote’s most recent poll of 18-29 year olds(37) found that the issues young voters most want the next president to address are jobs and the economy, Iraq, health care, and education costs. Young adults also are concerned about the environment and global warming, immigration, and national security.

By and large, young adults care about the same issues that older voters do – good news for a campaign that doesn’t want to have multiple issue agendas. however, make sure to talk about the issues in ways that are relevant. For example, you probably don’t want to focus on Social Security and Medicare when meeting young voters, but talking to them about your plans to make health care affordable, accessible, and high-quality for young adults will certainly get you attention.

Partisanship is passé for young voters. they want ideas and action, not attack ads and soundbites. If you have an audience with young voters – whether that’s at an event, via a TV ad, or in an online setting – take that time to talk to them about your plans and ask for their votes. Don’t waste time with party platitudes or opponent attacks.

Young adults are just as smart as any group of voters – there’s no need to try and be “one of the kids” to get our attention and votes. Just be yourself.

Yes, young voters are young, as the description suggests. But they are adults and their votes count just as much as anyone else’s. Make sure to avoid stereotyping the youth vote as “kids” or irresponsible and apathetic (an outdated notion, anyway), and not to fall into the trap of talking to young people as if they are less worthy of respect than any other group of voters.

For three decades, there has been a cycle of mutual neglect between young people and politicians. Youth turnout was low, and so candidates didn’t reach out to young people. But young people saw that candidates and elected officials didn’t pay them any heed, and so became less and less likely to vote.

That cycle of neglect is beginning to be broken – by young people voting and taking action in record numbers and by candidates and elected officials engaging young people in their campaigns and governing. Let’s keep that up – it’s better for our democracy and it’s a winning strategy for campaigns. So just do it – go find your young voters (see the previous section) and ask for their votes!

Messaging That Works
Through focus groups, polling, and work in the field, Rock the Vote knows what messaging works to motivate young voters – and what doesn’t. here are the basic dos and don’ts of communicating with young voters:

• Talk about the issues and be results-oriented.
• Know that you need to appeal to young voters’ interests.
• Reinforce empowerment – use positive language about young voter participation.
• Use language that builds on young voters’ desire to have an impact on issues central to their lives and to the lives of their friends and families.
• Give them a sense their votes can make a difference and will be counted.
• Ask for their votes.

• Denigrate young people for apathy or low voting rates. Not only is this not true anymore, it can decrease turnout.
• Place young people in opposition to older people.
• Assume that young voters know the basics of registering and voting.
• Think young voters will vote just because it is the right thing to do.
• Invoke anger. they’re looking for solutions, not complaints.
• Forget to ask for their votes.

“Your vote can make a difference for people you care about. Vote for your brothers and sisters who want to be able to go to college. Vote for your friends who are in Iraq. Vote for your children who will need clean air to breathe and good schools to go to. Vote for parents so they have social security benefits and Medicare when they retire. Don’t just vote for yourself—vote for them.”

“In 2008, your voice will matter. As part of a new generation of voters, 44 million strong, you have the power to change politics in this country. It’s up to you to decide who the next president of United States is. It’s up to you to decide if and when the war will end. It’s up to you to decide if everyone in this country should get healthcare coverage. It’s all up to you, so let your voice be heard on Election Day.”

Young people trust sources they view as unbiased. hold back on the rhetoric.

Keep it real. We’ve got B.S. meters installed from birth. Tell us the truth, tell us what your plan is, and we’re good to go.

Keep in mind that these messaging tips are for the general youth vote cohort. But as noted earlier, Millennials are very diverse and made up of many different groups. Work with your staff and volunteers – and use Rock the Vote’s polling on these subgroups(39) and other resources – to craft messages that motivate your target audiences.

(37) Rock the Vote 2008 February 2008 poll of 18-29 year olds.

(38) From Rock the Vote focus groups of 18-29 year olds, conducted by Lake Research Partners and the Tarrance Group in October 2007.

(39) Rock the Vote makes available full crosstabs of all our polling, as well as our focus group results and factsheets on key demographic subgroups of the youth vote. See

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