News outlets and political blogs across the country declared the 2008 and 2012 elections—especially Barack Obama’s appeals to youth—a revolution in voter turnout. They predicted a new trend for elections moving forward. However, the change in turnout accomplished during the general election failed to carry over to the midterm elections. In 2010, the absence of Obama’s name on the ballot cost Democrats votes in both of these groups, mainly due to low turnout rates.
According to the results of the Fall 2010 survey of the Harvard Public Opinion Project, only 27 percent of young Americans and 32 percent of young African Americans said they would definitely vote. Low turnout among these key groups cost Democrats the House leadership. Meanwhile, 2010 was also a year of incredible support shown towards Tea Party candidates, which gave Republicans the edge they needed to gain electoral victory. Traditionally right-leaning demographics came out in droves to vote for these Tea Partiers, while important left-leaning groups stayed home.
The numbers for this year’s elections, unfortunately, don’t look much better. According to HPOP’s recently released poll, only 26 percent of young Americans indicated that they will definitely vote, and of those definite voters only 28 percent are African American. In fact, the number of young African Americans that indicated confidence in their plans to vote is even lower than it was in 2010. Additionally, only 18 percent of American youth in general describe themselves as politically active.
Perhaps in response to similar indicators, Democrats across the country have made increasing voter turnout their main method towards achieving victory in the midterms. This is especially relevant for African Americans, a traditionally left-leaning block that helped decide the 2008 and 2012 general elections. While only 36 percent of total respondents and 33 percent of white respondents said they had seen voter registration materials at work, at school, or in the community in the past few months, 44 percent of young African Americans reported having seen these materials.
The fact that young African-Americans are seeing voter registration materials in their communities more than any other young voter group shows that Democrats are serious about voter turnout. Perhaps more importantly, it means that they realize that the “business as usual” approach that they took to campaigning in 2010 will no longer suffice. Whether this difference in attitude will be reflected in actual turnout numbers remains to be seen.