WHAT WILL DRIVE YOUNG VOTERS OF COLOR TO THE POLLS?

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

CAN WE ALL GET ALONG; IS HATRED A GREATER MOTIVATOR THAN LOVE?

Depiction of the House vote on H.R. 3590 (the ...
Depiction of the House vote on H.R. 3590 (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) on March 21, 2010, by congressional district. Democratic yea Democratic nay Republican nay No representative seated (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Kirk Clay

Analyzing Partisan Manipulation and Voter Mobilization

After witnessing the woman’s healthcare debate, I’m reminded that every politician becomes a little “Etch A Sketchy” when appealing to their base. Just like the etch-a-sketch easily erases an image, they use language in a way that if called to question, they can deny any intent to disrespect others. They use terms like “Obamacare” and “self-deportation” or twist remarks about foreign policy to spark a reaction from their base. Underneath this is a subtle reference to values in a manner that manipulates their base.

What’s worse is that election year tactics like “Death Panel” town hall meetings produce obstructionist legislators. The use of shock to motivate the base also triggers a downward spiral that adds to the dysfunction in Washington and encourages the 60 member Tea Party Caucus. It’s an outrage that during one of the toughest periods in American history longstanding GOP moderate forerunners have been held hostage. Outside of the bi-partisan response to the financial crisis in 2008, there has not been a real attempt to legislate in a post-partisan manner.

What’s clear to me is that after 40 years of one party control of the house, some of the most conservative elements in this country came together and developed a strategy to win a majority in ’94. Now, the philosophy that “you can’t win without demonizing the opposite party” has become edict and only the American voter has the ability to break this cycle. Will politicians attempt to manipulate voters with the use of fear and hate? Will they use wedge issues to mobilize and turnout their base on Election Day?

I think back to the 2006 elections when these extremist unleashed a harsh “cultural war” to get their base to vote. The political atmosphere is similar to that of today.  However there’s strong evidence that things may be different this time.  We’ve had six years of new registrants and many young voters plus voters of color (VOC) will return to the electorate in 2012.

This political geography is highlighted in majority minority cities like Norfolk where its population grew 3.4% to 242,803. This increase gives Norfolk more than 83,000 “key” Voters of Color. Also, People of Color are 26% of Virginia’s Citizen Voting Age Population. They were 24% of vote share in 2008 and about 23% in 2010.

If a modern coalition of conscious Whites, Latinos, African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, Women, Unions, and Young Voters all demanded honest and trustworthy candidates, we could revitalize and expand our democracy. The truth is, we all love our country and that means every community in it. That’s what motivates most Americans to be compassionate. Hate only motivates “Etch A Sketchy” candidates to become partisan obstructionists. In my part of town, you can’t win without love. That’s popping the clutch.

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Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPAC

MICRO TARGETING THE HEARTLAND, IT’S A POLITICAL JUMP BALL

The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus where the Ohio...
Image via Wikipedia

By Kirk Clay

Analyzing Ohio’s Voters and Making Final Four Predictions

I have to admit, I love it when the March Madness season comes around. There is something about completing bracket sheets for both the Women’s and Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournaments and developing a strategy for my favorite teams to go all the way. The best part is identifying all of the opportunities for “cinderellas” or “underdogs” to win games they are not supposed to win.

As we get closer to the final four teams and realize that there are simply too many long shots for our favorite teams to survive the entire tournament, we scrap the entire bracket and start all over again. The trick is to gather as many statistics as possible and choose the best path forward. Sometimes, we have to follow our heart and go with our gut instincts.

Watching the excitement of the “First Four” match up in Dayton reminded me of Ohio’s recent “Big Four” electoral impact events. I began to ask myself, “what did Representatives Kaptur, Kucinich, Schmidt, and the “Underdog” Congressional hopeful Joyce Beatty all have in common?” They all were affected by Congress’ abysmal 10% approval rating.

Does the results of their Congressional bids reflect the voters’ gut instincts? Clearly, there is a sentiment that Washington’s obstructive behavior–like the current fiasco over judicial vacancies, the stalled transportation bill, and the assault on women’s healthcare–will not be rewarded in 2012.

As our economy continues to recover and U.S. manufacturing is becoming this years “Cinderella story,” voters are becoming hopeful. Toledo added about 1,800 manufacturing jobs last year and more are coming this year with General Motors and Chrysler committing to hiring over 1,600 people by 2013. Correspondingly, unemployment has fallen to 7.9% and manufacturing now comprises 18.3 percent of Ohio’s economy. We now see that middle and working-class voters are rejecting the old strategy of “wining by demonizing the opposite party on a bumper sticker.” In November, they may counter 2010’s dysfunctional hate wave with a wave of “economically coherent” leaders.

To win the heartland, politicians have to revive Franklin Roosevelt’s “Lunch Pail / Hard Hat Coalition.” In fact, a modern coalition which includes progressive Whites, Latinos, African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, Unions, and Young Voters is the best path forward.

Remember the 2006 elections when Governorships and Senate seats flipped to blue in Ohio, Colorado, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Missouri?  That was the “Lunch Pail Coalition” in action. A significant factor in the election outcomes were Voters of Color (VOC). For example, look at Ohio’s Cuyahoga County.  That county, which includes Cleveland, was 12% of the vote share while VOC were 14% of the electorate.

This dynamic has played a significant role in Ohio where African American mayors have been elected in the seven major cities of Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo, Dayton, Youngstown, and Mansfield. Ohio voters have always been able to come together through a “Lunch Pail / Hard Hat Coalition” and elect candidates of color.

Looking forward to November 2012, I remain hopeful.  Although the 2010 census data shows Ohio losing two Electoral College votes, cities like Columbus grew by 10.6% to 787,033. This increase gives Columbus more than 145,000 “key” Voters of Color. That means the Democratic Primary winner Joyce Beatty, who is the first African American Congressperson from central Ohio to make it to the primary, can win in November.

Beatty has already demonstrated the impact of the “Lunch Pail Coalition” in Ohio’s new 3rd Congressional District by mobilizing the second largest VOC voting block of Ohio’s sixteen congressional districts. Her strategy to embrace the heart of the coalition by targeting high performing VOC precincts like the Southside, Northeast, and Eastside gave her strong voter support in precincts like 35-B, 17-F and 28-E. What’s more, Beatty won all but one of the twenty highest-turnout precincts in the district and received 15,231 votes district wide.

As the big dance towards November begins, it’s important to keep in mind that middle and working-class voters are not interested in obstruction by Congress. Why should they?  Ohio has increased its manufacturing jobs by about 4 percent since June, 2009. That’s 24,600 jobs for working families. Imagine how many more new jobs could be created if Congress worked together?  As Beatty said on election night “our voice will be part of doing new things.” We want our political leaders to get something done.

I agree.  Voters have little patience for bumper sticker solutions. We always root for the underdogs, even if that means voting for a slate of bracket busters. That’s popping the clutch.

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Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPAC