Targeting the Youth Vote

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Targeting the Youth Vote
Presented by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government[1]
Students wishing to attend should email Prof. Palfrey. There is a $50 registration fee that may be waived.
More information at Institute of Politics website[2].

Friday, March 9, 2007
9:00 AM – 4:45 PM
Sheraton Commander Hotel
16 Garden Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
The George Washington Ballroom


A new generation has arrived. 18-29 year-olds are turning out in record numbers. Voting is a habit, which they are acquiring early. Within 9 years they will be 1/3 of the electorate. Partisanship develops during these years, and requires 2-3 election cycles to cement. Connecting with these voters requires both traditional campaign methods and new, innovative methods.

National Journal article dissecting the rise in youth voters:

I was only able to attend the afternoon sessions; if anyone attended the morning and can fill in the notes that would be fantastic.
-jon bashford


(10:00 – 10:15)

  • Governor Jeanne Shaheen, Director, Institute of Politics

IDI Project Findings

(10:15 – 11:15)

  • Moderated by: John Della Volpe, Polling Director, Institute of Politics
  • David King, Lecturer in Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government, Research Director, Institute of Politics
  • Max Anderson, student, Kennedy School of Government
  • Nicole Yakatan, Principal, Y Research and Marketing

Case Study: Michigan Gubernatorial Race

(11:30 – 12:30)

  • Moderated by: Kathy Barks Hoffman, Michigan AP Lansing Correspondent
  • Howard Edelson, Campaign Manager, Granholm for Governor
  • Greg McNeilly, Campaign Manager, DeVos for Governor

Lunch and Keynote: Youth Vote and Technology in 2008

(12:30 – 2:00) Moderated by: Governor Jeanne Shaheen

Opening Remarks

  • Mike Murphy, Republican Strategist
    • Youth vote is critical
      • Has become increasingly democratic: close to 60%
      • John Kerry's best demographic group
      • Technology is critical, but fundamentally messaging is the most important
        • Micro-targeting "fetishism" among Republicans
        • Especially important to find your supporters among "independents"
    • What is the internet?
      • When describing it to older pols, he calls it "free stamps"
      • There was a time when a major campaign issue was paying for more stamps than your opponent; the technology changes that balance
  • Joe Trippi, Democratic Strategist
    • McCain to Dean
      • McCain: most significant use of technology up to 2000
        • 40,000 people signed up after New Hampshire, raised million$
        • Lacking some important tools:
          • Broadband
      • Dean: took it to a new, unforeseen level
        • 650,000 people
    • Next?
      • Trippi thinks the next big tech-candidate will get half a billion dollars from the internet
      • New tools:
        • Facebook
        • YouTube
      • Like TV to radio, there is a change of medium
        • The JFK-Nixon parallel: Nixon was well-suited for radio but not TV
        • Phoniness of 30-second spot to cell-camera authenticity: harder to control message, young people become more engaged because (1) it is their technology, (2) it shows authenticity, which appeals to the young

Moderated Discussion

  • Shaheen: Q about MySpace: Major Dem candidates have 80,000 friends; Republican candidates have about 2500 friends.
    • Murphy: America is more aligned by culture than by class, resulting in a social agenda gap with the under-30s. If Republicans don't start operating there, they're finished. He's noticed the ridiculously early start to 2008, but thinks that as voters and candidates evolve the field could change. Obama is the only candidate who has actually connected with people so far. In 6 months, check back on Facebook to see the growth in the demographic; if the Republicans are still so far behind, he would be concerned.
      • Prediction: Hillary will lose in the primary. For Republicans, the new primary calendar may favor Guilliani from Iowa and New Hampshire bump going into California's early primary. Romney and McCain are the others to watch.
    • Trippi:
      • There are 4 campaigns who are already far ahead of the $400,000 Dean online fundraising for first quarter 2003. Hillary has $1M; Obama; Edwards; Richarson is also ahead of where Dean was at this time (which may be somewhat surprising, and be an early indication of his connection).
      • It is not yet clear where the comfortable online place is for normal people; if you went to DailyKos to express appreciation for Hillary's latest speech you'd be flamed. As the election gets closer, some online space will mature for a more moderate forum.
      • Text-messaging: Dean was the largest text-messaging network in America in 2004 with 5,000 people. It will be more powerful in '08, it is useful, but it will not be the end-all of American politics (this cycle, at least). Dean used it along with email to increase TV ratings for shows on which Dean appeared, "tricking" the media into extra coverage.
        • Shaheen: Hamas used text msgs to get the vote out last year.
      • Prediction: it's still anyone's game. With the new calendar: Gephart would have been the nominee in 84 if he had run on this calendar. Iowa and New Hampshire will be MORE important than in the past, because NH vote will be a huge factor in the CA vote.

Questions from audience

  • Q: which candidates will energize young people?
    • Murphy: Romney, McCain, and Guilliani all have a good chance of doing so. Karl Rove will run but lose. Brownback or Huckabee may have a run at it.
    • Trippi: Obama definitely appeals to young people. Hillary inspires young women. Edwards also inspires young people. The problem is, the early states are some of the oldest states in the country--the Dean internet organization was not very heavy in Iowa.
  • Q from student from Students for Obama: the org began as an internet group, and has been building towards the ground (which is different from ground->net). Power of Facebook seems untapped.
    • Trippi: The tools are still evolving. As Dean saw: how do you get the online activity to come offline? The tools are better than they were 4 years ago. It takes resources to build the code, but today you can know where each of your people is and coordinate their actions. Small groups like this that are independent from the campaign and national party are exciting part of the mess of democracy.
    • Murphy: All technology eventually becomes push technology. It begins as opt-in, but when it becomes push-tech it is less fun, you have to deal with rejection (see knocking on doors). Internet has turned mailing lists alive, made it possible to converse with them.
  • Q: What challenges do peer-to-peer networks face when trying to make them sustainable?
    • Trippi: A lot of this is trying to put to much on one thing, like a single Facebook group. How is Obama even going to know that 300,000 would take interest in a group? What the campaign has to figure out is how to empower those group members to take action--perhaps for a start by visiting the campaign website, then maybe even to knock on doors. Trippi sees a field full of Goliaths (the parties, the candidates, the issues) and lots of powerless Davids. The question is not "how do we stay the Goliath" but "how can I give these people slingshots?" Help them slay an opposing candidate, or an issue like global warming.
      • My thought: what happens when they train the slingshot on you?
  • Q from former Harvard College Dems president: To what extent does the Iowa boost control the momentum in New Hampshire and determine the primary?
    • Trippi: New Hampshire can slap down the arrogant or those who don't have "that thing." But those 2 states have everything. In 04, everyone was broke after IO and NH. The surpise in 04 was that Kerry won NH when Dean was expected to take it. If the received wisdom is that Hillary wins in Iowa and someone else takes it, all the money in the world doesn't change the fact that the upstart will win.
    • Murphy: The biggest mechanical mistake made in McCain 2000, was trying to move the South Carolina primary back. Picking fight by taking NH, then needed some time to recharge the bank after that. They succeeded in moving the primary, but it turned out that it was Bush who needed the time to recoup, and he was able to come back to win SC--under the previous, or the current calendar McCain would have won. He thinks if someone can be top 2 in Iowa and win NH, they will dry up the money for every other candidate and take it.
    • Trippi: on the topic of unintended consequences, in '88 the Dems moved a bunch of Southern states to Super Tuesday in hopes of getting a Southern candidate--the result was Dukakis. ????
  • Q: what strategy for candidates to engage (or not engage) the blogosphere?
    • Trippi: is "flabbergasted" that the candidates are doing so little. Dean was a terrible blogger; he made his blogging debut on Lessig's blog and made some fairly innane comments ("This is terrific, it's terrific to be blogging here today") resulting in some scrambling by the campaing manager (Trippi), but it resulted in a truly authentic moment. The campaign made a fair amount of hay out of the candidate being his authentic, awkward self--it built a lot of credibility that it wasn't ghost-written.
    • Murphy: Internet based on a model that the best stuff will bubble to the top. But: all campaigns have press hacks who spend a lot of time researching bad stuff on the opponents. The hacks send out information (or mis-information) to blogs, and some small blogs pick up on it without checking; the mainstream press can be led around by this when the then report based on those couple of blogs that this is what "the blogosphere" thinks.
  • Q: What does it mean that the youth vote favors "authenticity"?
    • Murphy: Watching Obama (who he likes), he thinks his campaign could become too cute. Some candidates might try to pre-package authenticity, creating a phony, self-parodying authenticity (see the Hillary announcement video, in which she doesn't come across as human but rather as a poll robot.)
    • Trippi: We are already seeing phony authenticity. Thinking back to DeanTV, they were able to keep 24-hour news feed based on videos made by volunteers. One video showed the beginning of a rally, where a student organizer gushed that he was skipping a final to be there, and Dean went from puffed-up presidential material to an authentic worried-father type. Those kinds of authentic moments will come out in this election cycle.
    • Murphy: voters are interested in authenticity, but not to the point of offensiveness.
  • Q: (1) What is the best message for Republicans with youth voters? (2) How can it be implemented? (3) What use are robo-calls?
    • Murphy:
      • (1) Best message is freedom & authenticity;
      • (2) Republicans need to flood the communication channels, including by putting young voters front-and-center;
      • (3) Robo-calls are used by everyone but the public hates them. The only times he thinks they should be used are when there is an especially compelling speaker (i.e. Schwartzeneggar) and they are programmed to leave messages but not to talk to a live person.
  • Q: What can parties do to retain younger people as committed members of a party, or are those days over?
    • Trippi: Those days are over. Either party can put up attractive, personality-based candidates. See Reagan, who spurred a cohort to sign up as Republican and continue that way. When one of those rare people comes into power, they make long-term changes. While the parties should make every effort to organize and empower youth voters, a single candidate can change the image of the entire party for the long term. We may well see that with the Republicans this cycle. We are also getting close to the point where a 3rd-party candidate could take it, in part because of the technology, and in part because the 2 major parties have ground the public to the point of apathy.
    • Murphy: All the trends are towards independent voters. Many always vote one party or the other, but don't want to be beholden or labelled.

Emerging Election Tactics

(2:00 – 3:15) Moderated by: Heather Smith, Director, Young Voter Strategies

Opening Remarks

  • Allison Dale, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Ph.D. student (Text messaging)
    • Interested in empirical methods of testing campaign strategies. She worked in the NH Dean campaign in '04, leading to a desire to field experiment with text messaging in the '08 election.
    • 1/4 of Americans under 25 are mobile-phone only; soon 1/3 of the entire electorate will be mobile-only.
    • Experiment:
      • This requires getting their numbers. Working Assets, Student PIRG, Mobile Voter and others supplied them with a sample of 14,300 cell numbers.
      • Half were control group.
      • Other half received reminder
      • Some received msg: "Polling information at" phone # for People for the American Way, giving polling place addresses.
      • Some received "Please vote" message
      • Some received "Close election" message
      • Results not yet in
    • Follow-up survey:
      • Asked about how people feel about receiving text messages
      • Results:
        • Overall, 43% of people thought positively about receiving the messages
        • People most prefered to be contacted by text messages, over email, phone, or in-person contact
        • A distict minority were bothered by receiving the messages
  • Professor John Palfrey, Harvard Law School Berkman Center (Online Video)
    • Gap between digital natives and digital immigrants:
    • Use of internet in politics and strengthening democracy
      • Increased use of video: natives like image accompanied by text, while immigrants think in terms of text accompanied by an image
      • Campaigns and tactics:
        • Most common use is another form of TV: Clinton and videos feel very much like a campaign video--it may be effective, but is not transformative
        • You can think of creating a channel or RSS feed
      • Videos by those outside the campaign:
        • Candidates are always on, always in a "public" space
      • Is it possible to use read/write technologies to engage young voters?
        • "Generation Web" video
        • It is not clear whether any candidacy will give up control to use this power
  • Lowell Feld, Founder of the Raising Kaine blog, former Netroots Coordinator on the Webb for Senate campaign
    • Goaded Webb to run
      • Through email, he pushed Jim Webb to run. Webb was concerned about fundraising, and about the reception he would get
      • Created, getting 1000 signatures and $40,000 in pledges in 1 month.
      • Was eventually hired by the campaign
    • Lessons:
      • Netroots played a huge role.
      • Many candidates think they can jump-start web presence by starting a website, but the process is organic and bottom-up. The model of raising small money from big crowds was successful and led to a perception of "authenticity". It may prove difficult to replicate the model because it is not just a formula.
      • Messaging was important, but not micro-targeted in this campaign. It was one message for everyone.
      • The "macaca moment" was not an accident. It was a "forced error" in the sense that he was under pressure. He was forced out of Iowa and into Virginia, where he was followed around with a camera.
  • Ron Bell, Deval Patrick's Director of Public Liason Department; Founder and Executive Director of Dunk the Vote (Grassroots Organizing)
    • Tailoring old-style campaign methods to the new world
      • Trust the grassroots: allow people to become their own campaign managers
    • Dunk the Vote:
      • Voter registration drives at basketball tournament; the first year they registered 1500 participants and viewers during the 3-day tournament
      • 2006: they registered 40,000 people
      • This was a lot of work. Youth voters aren't apathetic, but they need to be approached in a way that engages them, and talk about issues that matter to them.
      • Young people ARE voting in Massachusetts, and this is a spreading trend.
  • Chris Kelly, CIPP, Facebook (Social Networking)
    • What Facebook is:
      • Founded at Harvard 3 years ago
      • Goals:
        • Short term, to track the user's actual social network, not create online social network from scratch.
        • Long-term, to grow the networks over time.
      • Today, largest photo site on the web
      • 1


Andrew O'Connor -- a couple insights from the Youth Vote Conference

In light of our discussion about presidential candidates' use of web video, I thought it was interesting that the Republican Michigan Gubernatorial candidate made such good use of "unscripted" video diaries. Each week, the candidate recorded some thoughts, usually while in the car between stops, and a staffer interspersed some B-roll and threw it on the web. Apparently, his "VLOGs" were the must heavily used feature on his site. This suggests that people are looking for the unscripted interaction that the presidential candidates were not willing to provide. Yet, even this was not completely "unscripted"; the candidate was still making the points he wanted to make, and if he had said anything too off message, it could easily be edited out. Nonetheless, the web may provide an excellent opportunity for candidates to present themselves in a more casual light, and at least give the impression that they are being spontaneous. Although this use of the web is more strategic than democracy enhancing, it may still serve to give voters a better sense of a candidate's personality, which is sometimes hard to grasp from brief TV spots.

30% of the youth market in that race lacked a land line phone--that in combination with the statistics regarding preferred method of contact (32% said they wanted to be reminded to vote by text messages, 29% by email) suggests that as this market expands, there is a tremendous potential for cost savings. Although in-person calls may be slightly more effective, text messages are cheap and don't require nearly the same amount of labor as phone banks. Relying on cell phones also helps relieve the perennial problem of updating databases when land line numbers change. As the campaign managers mentioned, the cost effectiveness of email and text messages also allows candidates to stay in contact with voters even between elections.

In response to Trippi's comments about figuring out how to give people "slingshots" to stand up to Goliath (the other party, etc.), aside from getting them to donate money or volunteer, my first thought was to have them put links on their blog or website. But given the power law phenomenon, that doesn't seem like it would be very effective--you'd probably only have a handful of people visit your page. Yet, a handful is better than none, and if lots of people put links up, that would be helpful. But to tie in another reading, Sunstein would suggest that the people who visit your site (probably your friends) are already likely to agree with you. Even if you're not changing people's minds, though, you might still encourage them to become more active or remember to donate money. In the end, I'm guessing that might add a lot of value.

Final Moderated Panel

I had occasion to attend the final panel, moderated by former New Hampshire Governor Jeane Shaheen, of the Institute of Politics’ symposium on targeting the youth vote. The panel featured Chris Battle (campaign manager for the Hutchinson’s bid for Governor of Arkansas); Jim Ross (campaign manager for the Kulongoski’s bid for Governor of Oregon); John Walsh (Deval Patrick’s campaign manager); Vince Galko (Former Senator Santorum’s campaign manager); and Ellyne Bannon (National Director of the Student Public Intererst Groups).

Right from the get-go Deval Patrick’s campaign manager, made a startling admission; while the Patrick campaign made “extensive” (vague/ambiguous much?) use of technology, he, as campaign manager, was by all accounts, a techno-neophyte. As such, he would refrain from commenting on the technological tactics used. Instead, he launched into a long-winded narrative on the “philosophy” of the campaign. As he waxed nostalgic on the successes of the campaign, it struck me as more on attempt to massage his own ego, as opposed to an earnest effort at a conveying the importance of the youth vote. Indeed, his reluctance to comment on any technological aspect of the campaign makes me wonder whether it merely represented an individual orientation, or was indicative of campaign-wide indifference to the opportunities afforded. Based solely on Mr. Ross's testimony, I'd venture to say that the Patrick campaigns online efforts were disjointed and haphazard.

Mr. Ross' admission was all the more striking when held in comparison to Rick Santorum's wide-sweeping online efforts. For instance, Mr. Santorum's campaign manager repeatedly stressed the importance of integrating their online efforts with other, more traditional facets of their campaign. In addition, he also called attention to the importance of connecting with and empowering youth audiences using a variety of mediums, including, but not limited to, social networking sites. Indeed, he noted how he ceded a significant amount of control to his 24 year old new media manager who was able to raise millions and recruit thousands online. Moreover, the campaigns also used text messaging and blogs to help spread their message. In short, irrespective of your political leanings, I'd argue that Santorum's campaign came to embrace the new political realities of our now more interconnected, electronic society and will hopefully set an example for future campaigns.