will the Democrats keep talking to their young voters?

According to CIRCLE’s latest analysis of its own survey data, young people who were contacted by candidates and parties in the 2018 election cycle were much more likely to vote. Some of this is probably selection-bias: campaigns try to contact the most likely voters. But there is also accumulated evidence that contact is effective: it boosts turnout, even for low-propensity voters.

Democrats contacted substantially more youth than Republicans did in 2018. Demographics influenced who received the most contact:

based on CIRCLE data

These differences do not track disparities in political power and SES. On the contrary, young Black women generally face compounded disadvantages in America, yet 60% were contacted in 2018 (presumably by Democrats, for the most part). They top the list. Meanwhile, young white men were ten points less likely to be contacted.

What does this mean? It all depends on the nature of the contact and the follow-up. If Democratic candidates were simply trying to mobilize a reliable segment of their base by sending one-way messages before the election, and if African American women don’t hear from politicians again until October 2020, then the graph demonstrates political opportunism.

On the other hand, if the contact involved some listening and learning by campaigns, and if elected officials now recognize their debt to Black women and continue to engage them between elections, then the graph offers grounds for optimism.

I wouldn’t bet on the more optimistic interpretation, but it’s something to work for.

It’s also worth focusing on young Latino men, who really are left behind. I think this is partly because they are (for the most part) less involved in conventional organizations where people can be found and reached. In social science jargon, they have less “social capital” than the other categories of young Americans.

Finally, I don’t think it’s good news that’s young white men were contacted at low rates. From a partisan Democratic perspective, it could be a reasonably good sign. Democrats, who did most of the outreach to youth in 2018, directed their resources to people of color for a mix of tactical and principled reasons. But we also know that many young white men live in “civic deserts,” where they are generally disconnected from civic and political institutions. That can reinforce combustible forms of alienation. If the low contact rate reflects low levels of membership and belonging, it is evidence of a problem.

See also: Civic Deserts and our present crisis; new research on “civic deserts”; and democracy is coming to the USA.

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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