Obama and the Youth Vote

Nate Silver at the excellent election blog 538 has an interesting Op-Ed in the New York Post that makes the case that the key to an Obama victory may very well be the under 30 vote and why this time, unlike in past elections, younger voters may turn out in much greater numbers this giving the Democratic candidate a big win.

The key is, Obama speaks their language - and markets to them as their other favorite products are sold:

One way to pierce young voters' attention barrier is to market yourself like the products they love. And this is something the Obama campaign understands exceptionally well - the importance of OBAMATM. From the elegant serif font on their website to their use (and occasional overuse) of the campaign's logo to their Madison Avenue-like slogans, the Obama campaign distances itself from the stodgy, haphazard presentation of a traditional political campaign. Obama is the Mac to John McCain's PC.

The younger voter could spell the difference in at least a half dozen states including Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada, Colorado, and Montana. And it will be issues like the environment and perhaps even gay rights that could goose the turnout of this age group and give Obama a landslide victory

Young voters are increasingly knowledgeable about politics - a Pew Research Center poll released in July found that voters aged 30 or younger were better informed than their older peers on issues like Iraq and abortion. To connect with the young voter means understanding those issues that are most important to them. One such issue is the environment. As the economy has grown worse, the environment has been subsumed into the issue of energy security (more narrowly, the issue of gas prices). But young voters care about the environment for the environment's sake, and see it as their generational imperative to protect the planet. Obama needs to speak to the issue in these terms, talking about the kind of world he wants his two young daughters to grow up in. Another issue important to young voters, though it requires somewhat more political courage, is civil rights for gays and lesbians, support for which is very strongly correlated with age. Highlighting his support for issues like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation, could win Obama support among young voters.

Interesting that Nate doesn't mention the blowback from Obama pushing gay rights. It would almost certainly motivate the evangelical right to come out and vote more than the McCain campaign could probably do on its own. In that sense, pushing the issue might be a wash or even give the GOP a slight advantage.

But it is the environment and all the ancillary issues associated with it - drilling, alternative energy, climate change, even eco-friendly farming - that might drive this generation of young people to vote in the election.

What we saw in the Democratic primaries were millions of new voters coming into the process for the first time as a result of Obama's candidacy. Historically, these voters never show up when the general election rolls around. You may recall in 2004 the tens of millions of dollars spent in youth outreach on MTV and "Rock The Vote" registration efforts that barely moved the young's apathy meter when the November election occurred. Will it be different this time?

Obama is counting on it.

Hat Tip: Ed Lasky