Two million more young people voted Tuesday than in the 2002 midterm
elections -- but not because of trendy new campaigning tactics like uploading
videos on YouTube or posting candidates' profiles on MySpace. Instead,
18-to-29-year-olds were compelled to vote because of one of the oldest media
tactics: Somebody asked them, often in person.
Of course, many were angry with the direction President Bush has taken the
country and wanted change, according to a bipartisan exit poll from a youth
voter organization. Put the two factors together -- and add the growing
influence of new media tools -- and some analysts say a generation of young
voters is solidifying into a Democratic voting bloc.
Lisa Hartley, 21, a senior at UC Berkeley, finishes voting Tuesday at a polling place in the student union building on campus. (Chronicle photo by Katy Raddatz)
"The 2006 elections show that Republican campaigns must mobilize their
base of young voters to win," said GOP pollster Ed Goeas, who conducted the
poll of 500 18-to-29-year-olds with Democratic pollster Celinda Lake for Young
Voter Strategies in Washington, D.C. The nonpartisan organization is a project
of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University.
Tuesday "proved that young voters can and will be a force in
elections," Goeas said. "Of the 28 seats in the House of Representatives that
changed hands so far, 22 were won by less than 2 percent of the vote, 18 by
5,000 or less votes, and 4 by less than 1,000 votes."
A key factor in wooing these 42 million people: campaigns that reached out
and talked to them. Forty-six percent of the young people in the survey said
they were contacted by a candidate or a campaign.
Of those contacted, 28 percent said they received a phone call, and 22
percent got an in-person visit. Only 3 percent received a text message on their
cell phone, and 7 percent were contacted through a social networking site like
MySpace or Facebook.
"Reaching young people is not rocket science," said Dave Rosenfeld,
organizing director of the nonpartisan New Voters Project, which registered
75,000 voters and ran outreach programs on 80 college campuses in 15 states.
Voter turnout increased dramatically Tuesday, Rosenfeld said, in precincts
with the large college-student populations his project targeted.
"Campaigns are learning that they ignore youth at their own peril,"
More peril could await Republicans if they don't reach more young voters
soon. According to CNN exit polls, 60 percent of voters under 30 cast ballots
for Democrats. Seventy-eight percent of young people who vote for the same
party in three elections in a row are likely to remain a member of that party
through adulthood, said pollster Goeas.
"We lost (the youth vote) in 2004 by 11 percent," Goeas said of
Republicans. Now, with that number doubling this year, according to early exit
polls, Goeas worried that a generation of the electorate is growing up as
According to the bipartisan Goeas-Lake exit polls, 40 percent of young
voters said they identify with Democrats, 30 percent with Republicans and 23
percent with independents. However, half reported that they voted for
Democrats, and 35 percent said they cast ballots for Republicans.
Despite Tuesday's swing, Democrats shouldn't take young people for
granted, said Molly Moon Neitzel, executive director of Music for America in
San Francisco. The organization connected with 3 million young voters this
election cycle through MySpace, text messaging and its volunteers, who
encouraged voting at the 1,000 concerts it sponsors annually.
"If they (Democrats) don't do something with the power we gave them last
night, we won't vote for them in 2008," Neitzel said Wednesday. "The jury is
still out on Democrats."
Forty-three percent of young people responding to the Young Voter
Strategies poll said the most important issue to them when deciding whom to
vote for was the war in Iraq. They wanted Congress to address education, the
expense of college and the economy. Sixty percent had an unfavorable impression
of President Bush.
"The main thing people wanted was change," said Kathleen Barr with Young
But while Music for America sent out 30,000 text messages Monday to remind
young people of the election and point them to their polling places, Neitzel
and others said the jury also is still out on the power of new media techniques
that surfaced in this campaign.
"The 2006 election was an experimental one for new media," said Peter
Leyden, director of the New Politics Institute, a liberal San Francisco think
tank that focuses on the intersection of new media tools and politics. "But
even if it wasn't fully integrated into campaigns, what things like YouTube did
was energize and excite young people about politics."
©2006 San Francisco Chronicle