Young voters came through for Biden. But outreach to them can’t stop

Democrats can’t afford to ignore young Americans until the next election

Members of the Georgia Tech women’s basketball team demonstrate outside a polling location in Atlanta on Election Day. Young voters were key to Democrats taking back the White House and need to be a priority for the party beyond this election cycle, Seawright writes.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Members of the Georgia Tech women’s basketball team demonstrate outside a polling location in Atlanta on Election Day. Young voters were key to Democrats taking back the White House and need to be a priority for the party beyond this election cycle, Seawright writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted December 14, 2020 at 6:00am

It is often said that every great movement within this American experiment — in truth, the history of the world — has been fueled by the young or, as we say in South Carolina, the “not-so-seasoned.”

History bears out the truth of that statement.

The average soldier was just 26 years old when he faced down the facist threat in World War II.

Thomas Jefferson was just 32 when he put quill to paper and penned the Declaration of Independence, proclaiming once and for all that “all men are created equal.”

It was students and young idealists who faced down the tanks in Tiananmen Square.

Students as young as 12 and 13 from Soweto, South Africa, began the uprising that would overturn apartheid.

It was a small group of black college freshmen from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University who refused to move from the Woolworth lunch counter in July 1960, planting the seeds of change in fertile ground and sparking the nationwide sit-in movement against segregation.

From the American Revolution to the Arab Spring and so many in between, change has often, if not always, been led by youth.

And for those who might argue that I’m discounting the contributions of our “seasoned” Americans, don’t imagine for a second that I’ve forgotten upon whose shoulders we stand.

But the potential of youth to drive change is obvious when you look at recent election numbers.

In 2008, a historic 52 percent of young voters turned out, the overwhelming majority for the Democratic nominee, Sen. Barack Obama.

In 2012, overall turnout dropped some to 49 percent, but President Obama won a whopping 60 percent of young voters again.

Compare that to 2016 when my Democratic Party took second place in the presidential race and you see that, while youth turnout remained relatively steady at 50 percent, Democratic preference dropped slightly with 55 percent of young voters backing Hillary Clinton.

That change may have seemed small … but the consequences were big.

Now we look at 2020 and see a surge in youth turnout — between 52 percent and 55 percent according to a Tufts University analysis — accounting for roughly 17 percent of all votes cast.

And whom did they choose? Joe Biden … by 60 percent.

So it’s safe to say that when young voters are engaged and involved, good things happen for Democrats and for the good of the world because, trust me, the world was paying attention to this election.

So now that the election is over, we can stop right?

Wrong.

You see, like with voters of color (and pretty much every constituency in the country), we have to continuously build off the 2020 election successes and treat younger voters as not just an agenda item but as a priority on that agenda.

They can’t be a means to an end, but the end itself.

Speaking as a 35-year-old young voter, that means treating us as an ongoing investment instead of an expense, making sure our issues are core issues.

Yes, maybe they are the same things our parents care about. But they have to be messaged differently so they speak to us because often people from different generations speak different languages. If you don’t believe me, just ask your parents or your kids.

Most importantly, we must maintain that engagement with young voters past the election cycle. Yes, campaigns and elections are opportunities to connect. But if that’s the only connection, then it’s a weak one and weak connections break easily.

It takes time, effort, focus and resources, but engaging young voters in a real, honest and lasting way blows lungsful of oxygen in this 244-year-old republic, reviving the engine of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for a new generation … and because of them.

Antjuan Seawright is a Democratic political strategist, the founder and CEO of Blueprint Strategy LLC, and a CBS News political contributor. Follow him on Twitter @antjuansea.