‘Generation Opportunity’ founder says youth vote was intense
The founder and leader of one of the leading online youth activism hubs is encouraged by what he saw in the Nov. 6 election, both online and on the ground.
“The fact that the president, again, got a majority vote of young voters wasn’t surprising to us, they are a part of his political base,” said Paul T. Conway, the president and founder of Generation Opportunity, speaking the morning after W. Mitt Romney lost to President Barack Obama.
“They have given the president another opportunity to fulfill his promises, to match his actions to his rhetoric, and to demonstrate an ability to achieve results in these areas,” he said.
“What we think it is interesting and significant is that his support from 18- to 29-year-olds actually dropped more than with any other age group,” said the chief of staff to then-Secretary of Labor Elaine T. Chao.
President Obama received 60 percent of the youth vote in 2012, compared with 66 percent in 2008. “The only other age group that dropped was among older voters, and that was by one point,” Conway said.
“That is pretty consistent with where Gallup had been over the last year, and when you consider that unemployment is at its highest sustained level since World War II in their demographic. I think we may have a slightly different take on some of this stuff than some folks,” he said. “The things we saw happening last night really weren’t a surprise to us.”
From the Generation Opportunity perspective, the surveys had good news, he said.
Contrary to reports in the media, the participation rate among voters aged 18 to 29 increased in the 2012 election, he said. “It ticked up one point higher than in 2008. They were 19 percent of all voters, whereas in 2008 they were 18 percent.”
For weeks, the media put out the narrative that young voters were not enthusiastic and that they would not turn out, said the former president of the University of Maine College Republicans.
“We’ve been able to integrate online and field operations, and for us Election Day was a culmination of a very long period of time of engagement with people,” he said.
“The quick-hit stuff, a lot of young folks see that as entertainment, but the long-term engagement with people over time trumps other efforts going on out there when it comes to GOTV, because now it’s just the continue of a conversation for us to actually ask people to vote,” he said.
In the run-up to the election, GO deployed intense messaging, such as posting Election Day countdowns, videos and other posts designed to build excitement for voting in the election on GO’s various platforms, which have traffic from more than four million viewers and followers, including its Facebook/Being American by GO page with more than 1.5 million likes, he said.
The GO Facebook page registered more than 1.1 billion views since June 2011, he said.
When the last unemployment numbers before the vote came up, the group posted those numbers, along with breakdowns that showed the while the national unemployment rate was 7.9 percent, the jobless rate among 18 to 29-year-olds, what 12 percent, or even 16.5 percent if the numbers took into account young Americans who gave up looking for work, so the government no longer counts them, he said.
“Only 31 percent of young adults overall believe the president has done a good job on young adult unemployment,” the veteran of more than 100 political campaigns said.
Throughout Election Day, thousands of Generation Opportunity followers were posting where they voted and describing what the day meant to him, Conway said.
The strongest feedback came from areas where GO had held programs and events on the ground, he said. “We build audiences, not only online, but through our grassroots team—with a team of 28, we are very, very pleased that for those folks, who heard the message about making a change, in terms of the direction of the country and understanding how the economy and the decisions made in Washington impact your ability to be employed in full-time meaningful jobs—we actually think it went quite well.”
Young people are voting with the full knowledge that they need a job or that when they leave school in a few years, jobs need to be there for them, he said.
“They are tired of the status quo that is marked by part-time jobs, periods of unemployment and a lot of uncertainty, so that when you do have a full-time job, it does not match up with where you really want to be in your career,” he said.
As GO continues to grow, Conway said he is trying to get other Americans to appreciate the concerns and political power of the millennials.
“For future campaigns, the results of last night’s election further demonstrate, yet again, that to succeed in garnering the support of young Americans, they must engage them fully in social media and must embrace the technologies that young Americans utilize to inform their opinions,” he said.
“More importantly, campaigns need to demonstrate that they respect the intelligence and influence of young Americans and provide them the content necessary for individuals to reach their own conclusions,” he said.
In 2020, the 18- to 29-year-old age group will be 38 percent of all voters, he said.
Republicans need to pay attention, he said. “Otherwise, they will keep losing.”