Missouri State Highway 1 in Kansas City, Missouri.

By Kirk Clay

Measuring the Intensity Level of Young Voters of Color

I was recently recruited to help train a team of young political organizers on micro targeting voters of color (VOC). The training marked the launch of a collaborative voter empowerment program by national and local organizations of color. This was part of their efforts to lay the ground work for capturing and energizing 18 -29 year old voters. As I began to pull together research data on voting trends for my presentation, I began to realize how important the young VOC will be in 2012:

● A recent poll from Gallup shows President Obama with a lead over Mitt Romney among voters under 30.

● According to new poll from Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, President Obama has increased his lead over Romney by 6 points to a 17 point margin.

● In 4 months, Obama’s job approval has increased from 52% to 66% among Latinos.

● Obama leads Romney in a head-to-head by thirty-nine points.

● Latinos are not the only young VOC feeling the President; he leads with African Americans by seventy-eight points.

After seeing these facts and figures, I immediately began to search for issues and places where this dynamic may have an impact. I talked to a young friend who lives in Missouri to get a “heartland” perspective about the findings. He immediately agreed with the survey, “I see it too, just look at the whole student loan mess.”

He went on to say “these politicians agree on college affordability and can’t even come together to prevent the current interest rate from doubling.” I reminded him that this rancorous environment is similar to the 2006 midterm elections when the Democrats took control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. That year, young people were 15% of Missouri’s electorate and the Senator won by just 45,000 votes.

Is he right? Are young Americans looking for someone who can stand up to these extreme politicians? And are the extreme politicians so stubborn that they would rather let young Americans pay more for their loans than listen to their congressional leaders? Will it take a coalition conscience which includes progressive Whites, Latinos, African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, Unions, and Young Voters to get Washington back on track?

Given this backdrop, I went back to the Institute’s poll which confirms my friend’s feelings. According to the poll, a clear majority (55%) of 18-29 year olds believe “elected officials don’t have the same priorities I have.” They also believe that politics has become too partisan (49%). What’s worse is that 59% believe that “elected officials” seem to be motivated by selfish reasons” and only 24% reported “liking” a political candidate on Facebook.

As my friend and I continued to deliberate, I realized the broader implications of energizing young Voters of Color. In 2008, the youth voter turnout was driven largely by a surge in Latino and African American youth. For example: 42% and 39% of young Latino women and men voted. Over 52% of the African American youth between the ages of 18 and 24 voted in 2008. That was the highest turnout rate among any youth group–by race and by ethnicity. Also, young voters were 21% of Missouri’s electorate–the President lost by only 39,000 votes. That is significant if you add the fact that VOC increased their 13% vote share to 19% in 2010.

My friend, who considers himself a “young professional,” says that there is ample opportunity for young voters to raise their voice. Young African Americans and Latinos are 15% and 18% of the total youth population respectively. In 2015, Young People of Color will be over 37% percent of the 18-24 age population.

Experts who think that young VOC can’t be energized in 2012 in the same way that they were in 2008 are mistaken. On the contrary, Kansas City, Missouri grew by 4.1% to 459,787 and is now close to 40% POC of which many voters are under 29. I believe they understand the relationship between political independence and democracy. They know that being registered makes you relevant and that sidestepping your responsibilities creates a vacuum that sucks hope out of the political process.

Now that these voters are showing signs of rejuvenation, experts will have to honor the power of their vote. As they become more engaged, the political organizations that invested in them will begin to invest again. As they become an asset, the issues that affect them will be debated more. As their interests become clearer their preferences will as well. As we learned in 2008, the power of the youth vote extends through their interests and affects policy for every American. That’s popping the clutch.

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Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPAC