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

POLITICS IS A TEAM SPORT, COMING THROUGH IN THE CLUTCH

English: Cartogram of the 2008 Electoral Vote ...
Image via Wikipedia

By Kirk Clay

Political Trends May Reset 2012 Electoral Map

Every Thursday, I take my son to winter baseball camp. I enjoy watching him learn the fundamentals of fielding, throwing, and hitting. I watch him go over the same routine countless times so he’s prepared to make a clutch play if needed. As his dad and coach, I remind myself about Reggie “Mr. October” Jackson’s quote which speaks to the significance of me being there as the coach/manager for my son, “I’ll tell you what makes a great manager: A great manager has a knack for letting you know that they believe in you. They make you get more out of yourself. And once you learn how good you really are, you never settle for playing anything less than your best.”

I wish we could say the same about the GOP’s commitment to civil and human rights. They have made many attempts at garnering support among People of Color.  But as this week’s Arizona Republican debate came to an end, I began to contemplate if the GOP will lose that support.

For instance, the candidates’ answers on immigration reform made me wonder if they truly understood the depth of the firestorm that their “anti-immigration” rhetoric was fueling.  They threatened to veto the Dream Act, expressed full throated support of regressive Arizona-style immigration laws, and they were noticeably silent during the Adalberto Jordan scuffle.

Are they aware of the impact that these positions will have on People of Color when they vote?  Do they realize that these remarks indicate a pull away from any type of commitment to civil and human rights which was used by George Bush to sway People of Color to join the GOP bandwagon? 

Or maybe this suggests that they are ignoring the power that Arizona’s Voters of Color bring to the ballot box and gambling on the past where McCain won his home state by nine percent in 2008, Bush won by nine percent in 2004 and Bush won by six percent in 2000.  In fact, Bush won over forty percent of the Latino vote in 2004.  Maybe they believe they can back away from civil rights issues because they can win without any votes from People of Color.

What the GOP may not understand is that their policies toward Voters of Color (VOC) are turning states like Arizona into a battleground due to significant population shifts.  Remember that according to the 2010 census, Arizona’s population increased significantly in the last ten years. They gained a new congressional seat plus an extra Electoral College vote.
My advice to “political experts” is to not underestimate the VOC voting machine. For example, People of Color in Arizona make up 24% of the voting age population and in 2008 an impressive 74% of those registered to vote went to the polls. In fact, Voters of Color made up 18% of the vote share in the general election.

This number increased to 20% in 2010, a Tea Party wave year. Think about what could happen in 2012 if every eligible Voter of Color is energized? Particularly in cities like Phoenix where the population grew by 9.4% to 1,445,632 which included more than 280,000 “Key” Voters of Color. These Phoenix voters recently elected a Latino City Councilman and a new Democrat Mayor.

Keep this in mind– the entire Electoral College math could shift if significant investments by progressives, philanthropists, labor and political insiders were made to energize and turnout POC voters in Arizona.  If this happens and Arizona becomes a CLUTCH state, it could go from red to blue.  

Whether or not this is the year that Arizona becomes a CLUTCH State is unclear. The political geography and demographic numbers are there. All that’s needed is the level of support required to build the electoral vehicle to get the best performance from the emerging electorate.  I believe that the time has come for a political game changer to step to the plate. That’s popping the clutch.

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Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPAC

WEIGHING PUBLIC OPINION, TARGETING THE RIGHT VOTERS

English: John Lewis speaks during the final da...

The Value / Vote Analysis for People of Color

By Kirk Clay

Growing up in Toledo, I can remember when a local sports team would win the city championship and advance to the state tournament. The affect it had on the community was tremendous. It energized us, and gave us a sense of achievement for our community and for the entire the city. It united all of Toledo.  In contrast, I’m not sure what to make of the recent firestorm over Chrysler’s NFL “Halftime In America” ad.

The ad seems to be a story about how one of our nation’s greatest companies is recovering from an economic downturn and now bouncing back to regain its role in the auto industry, the city of Detroit and the nation.  It reminds us that with hard work and tough decisions, we can bounce back.  Yet some politicians are complaining.  They believe the ad was not appropriate and some even suggest that it was promoting a partisan message.

Back in Toledo, we believed that a victory for our neighborhood was a victory for our city. So we always cheered for the home team. This applied to sports as well as politics. Even early in my career, all my impressions were centered by my father’s philosophy. “Son,” he would say bouncing a ball off his foot for effect, “you have to cheer a friend to endear a friend.”

In the 90’s, I remember working with a number of progressive partners to defeat a regressive ballot initiative in Colorado. I remember how challenging it was to excite People of Color (POC) about something they really didn’t identify with but were impacted by. We started down 20 points but after an aggressive public education campaign defeated the initiative by 12 points.  This happened because everyone was included and all segments of the community worked together as a team.

Fast forward a decade–the fruits of that kind of work were on full display at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado. The event represented the culmination of a collective effort by Whites, Latinos, African Americans, Asians, and Native Americans to encourage the election of the first Person of Color to the highest office of the land.

As I walked the city, going from event to event, we couldn’t help but to notice how unified the people were. There was something in the air. It had nothing to do with its thinness, although I did get a nosebleed one night.

In fact, I wondered if this was just something about those of us visiting the area or if people who lived in Denver felt the same way. So I went to one of Denver’s oldest African American neighborhoods, the historic Five Points community, in search of the real spirit.

I talked with a few residents and came to the conclusion that many were just as emboldened as the convention goers. In fact, many believed that any step forward for a person of color was a victory for every American. They referred to Denver’s long progressive history. They talked about the Buffalo soldiers, early Hispanic settlers, and the hundreds of activist that helped to give women more political and economic equality.

I asked them about the contours of Colorado’s current electorate. They told me about ex-Gov. Owens, and how Colorado had turned blue. They reminded me that even in 2004 when President Bush was re-elected and the GOP picked up seats on the Hill, the Democrats withstood the national surge. They took control of both houses in the Legislature and won a U.S. Senate seat. Moreover, in 2006 the governor’s office turned blue.

What the 2010 Census has revealed is that Colorado underwent a political geographical transformation. Note that President Obama won by 9%, the Democrats added another U.S. Senator, and they took five of the seven congressional seats. Moreover, people of color (POC) were 14% of the state’s vote share in 2008.  We saw more evidence of this shift in 2010 when during a wave year for the Tea Party, Colorado’s POC voters increased to 19% of the vote share and pushed the progressive statewide candidate over the top.

The truth is that the 2010 census only explains part of the story. Yes, the Denver population grew by 8.2% to 600,158 people and it currently has over 130,000 key POC voters. But it took the inspiration that the POC political leadership felt from the progressive community for so many to participate in the electoral process.  In fact progressive philanthropists and think tanks have invested resources in these communities for years.

The optimism of these progressive leaders continues to create opportunities for the POC political leaders to demonstrate their talents, skills, and value. Like my father says, we must understand that supporting a diverse team of political leaders will ultimately create an environment for success.

Rooting for higher POC voter registration rates, increased civic participation rates, and a more fair enforcement of civil and human rights laws only emboldens democracy. Progressive leaders understand that any victory for the team is a victory for America. That’s popping the clutch. 

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 Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPac