By Election Day 2020 Millennials and Generation Z will make up 40 percent of eligible voters.
Right now, only 23 percent of that demographic turns out to vote, according to Ben Wessel, director of NextGen Rising. His organization is aiming to change that.
NextGen partnered with Global Strategy Group and Brilliant Corners Research and Strategy over the past few months to conduct voter research on tactical messaging targeting youths with the eventual goal of more progressive victories in November.
“What we’ve realized with young people is that for a vast majority, the decision is not Democrat vs. Republican but voting vs. non-voting,” Wessel said.
The findings also led NextGen to target its efforts to online, texting, community colleges, and door-to-door campaigns. Classic broadcast TV ads would be ineffective. Young people spend a lot more time online and a lot less time watching cable TV, the group found. They also discovered community colleges are an untapped resource for political activism.
“We found out community colleges were one of the best places we could be doing work where nobody’s investing time and money,” NextGen senior advisor Jamison Foser said.
While on campus, however, try to avoid calling the students millennials.
Many in the demographic believe the word is a vast generalization and it has a negative connotation, since ‘millennials’ often take the blame for the woes of society, Terrence Woodbury of Brilliant Corners said.
Trump-bashing may also be counterproductive, according to John Cipriani of Global Strategy Group.
“They know they don’t like Donald Trump. Hitting them over the head with it might actually be demotivating.”
The battle with voting-age youth isn’t issue-based but rather about changing the culture around voting entirely, the group found. However active these young people may be, they don’t necessarily believe voting is the best way to effect change.
“They may agree with us about issues, but they’re not going to come out and vote if they think voting perpetuates a broken system,” Woodbury said. “They’re not going to come out and vote if they think fundamentally things are rigged.”
Mobilizing young voters can mean combatting the ‘my vote doesn’t matter’ mentality. NextGen plans to use specific counterexamples to address the defeated stance.
“We have to show them it isn’t the system is broken, it works for people who participate in it,” a spokesperson said.
Last year, control of Virginia’s legislature came down to a single vote in a single race. Because of that vote, the legislature was able to expand Medicaid to give coverage to 400,000 Virginians, according to a NextGen spokesperson.
With a staff of more than 500 working in 11 states, NextGen has so far registered over 82,000 voters, so far.
The group is backed by former hedge fund executive Tom Steyer who announced in March he was committing $7 million to young-voter turnout in an effort to elect Democrats in Florida and California. Steyer stacked that money on top of the already pledged $30 million to fund a 10-state NextGen plan.