Every modern election cycle has courted the elusive “youth vote” – the 18- to 24-year-olds who have long lain dormant as a potential voting bloc. Even in the most promising cycles, the youth consistently fail to deliver. In their attempts to tap the youth vote, strategists often conclude that if pop icons tell teens to vote, they will do it. However with the passage of each election cycle, it becomes increasingly apparent that this strategy is inherently flawed.
In 1990, MTV, the presumed authority on 18- to 24-year-olds, had an idea on how to get their target audience to the polls. They thought they had it – a national campaign, promoted by Hollywood celebrities and other big-name icons that made it “cool” to vote. They called it “Rock The Vote” and tapped stars like Madonna to promote it.
Yet the results were far from glamorous. Not only has the campaign been unable to tick the 18- to 24-year old turnout up, but turnout actually went down for most of the 1990s and into the new century. The 2004 campaign, “Vote Or Die,” was even more embarrassing. Headliner Paris Hilton didn’t even register to vote, much less cast a ballot. While the number of young people voting did increase to a modest 11.6 million, youth voters continued to make up a fraction of the overall electorate – just over 9 percent. The overall turnout increased in that election, motivating a few million more youth to get out, but the youth demographic still held the lowest turnout rate.
As we speak, there is a new campaign for this election cycle, creatively titled “Rap The Vote.” Yet no matter how many music genres MTV cycles through, these Hollywood campaigns are not going to work. Paying Hollywood stars to parade around with ‘I Voted’ stickers on their chests clearly does not motivate the youth to show up at the polls.
Political strategists need to start testing new ideas on how to get young people to vote, instead of recycling the same old ones. Lucky for them, I happen to have one that just might do the trick.
Why don’t campaigns host get-out-the-vote parties with beer and music? An ‘I Voted’ sticker could be required to enter, or campaigns could drive young people collect young voters at the polls, and then drop them off at the party. Or, even more daring, a kegger could be hosted at the lavish White House grounds (or as close as the Secret Service may allow). It sounds stupid, impractical (and even slightly depressing that we have to bribe our young people to vote with alcohol), yet if you look at history, the idea is not too crazy.
Andrew Jackson, running for President in 1828, had a similar idea. To overcome the distance between the wild Western Frontier and stuffy establishment politics of the East Coast, he invited all his western supporters out to the White House for some fun at his inauguration. Someone spiked the beverages, and the night quickly turned into a wild boozefest where senators and farmers alike got ridiculously drunk, with some reports of individuals climbing out of White House windows.
It was undisciplined, yes, yet historians argue that it was a refreshing change of pace that removed the corruption and incompetence of a system that people saw as useless, and installed a new era of rule by the people.
It worked for Andrew Jackson in 1828, a year much more conservative than 2008. So why not try something similar? If the candidates pledged to hold a kegger at the White House, I can name a few thousand GW students who would certainly “Rock the Vote.”
The writer, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.