The Strategy Guide You Can Use to Improve Young Voter Turnout

October 17, 2018 - 12 minutes read

How to get Youth to Vote

When it comes to young voter turnout, the numbers are almost always abysmally low.

“Voting won’t change anything —I don’t see why I should even bother…”

“I want to vote but the entire process just seems like such a chore. I don’t have the time to figure out how to get registered and all of that…”

From not knowing how to vote, to even worse, not caring, there are several reasons for this low number. Unfortunately, low young voter turnout has its repercussions, because let’s face it:

  • Youth constitute about half of the voting population in the US (and in several countries as well) making them a potent vote bank, and
  • The earlier youngsters get into the habit of voting (read: as soon as they become eligible), the likelier it is that the habit of participating in elections will stick with them as they get older

Meaning: the lower the millennial voter turnout, the weaker is their ability to influence their own future. In this article, let’s look at strategies organizations and campaigns can use to increase youth voter engagement and turnout.

Educating in Schools and Colleges

Teaching students about the importance of voting and the different procedures surrounding elections while they’re in school or college would clear a lot of doubts and help students be more confident about their voting rights.

While introducing courses or subjects that touch upon the importance of elections comes under the jurisdiction of government or colleges themselves, what your organization or campaign can do is tie up with schools or universities and organize workshops for interested students. You can hold these “lectures” outside school hours and have friendly discussions about voting and elections, and can answer related questions.

Talk about the fact that while students don’t think voting is important at the present, it definitely is going to matter to them as they turn older when issues such as job scarcity, high mortgage rates, or healthcare rates start affecting them. Recruit volunteers from the institution you’re targeting as students are likelier to listen to their peers, and train them so they have the complete know-how to answer questions.

A quick note— it goes without saying that you must prove that you can provide these tutorial classes in a nonpartisan manner!

Spread Information about the Voting Process

This study by CIRCLE indicates that when youth are contacted by organizations or campaigns and are given the know-how regarding voting, they are more inclined to turn out to cast their vote. In fact, the same study claims that youth who are registered turn out in high numbers which are close to that of senior voters. So the first step is to ensure that they know how to register to vote.

Since youth are the biggest users of both social media and text messaging, use these platforms to forge connections with millennials. Upload links where users can register to vote online on social media sites and post about important dates and polling venues. Almost all social media sites offer detailed targeting, so you can also publish advertisements which will be viewed by younger demographics.

Sending informational links, answering queries, and texting reminders about campaign drives are simple with text messaging too— all you need to do is recruit a bunch of volunteers to target your contact lists and reach out to them.

Both your social media posts and texts have to be personal for them to be effective. While it’s easier to maintain one-on-one conversations through texts, it’s a little harder on social media. However, what’s proven to work in increasing turnout among young voters are posts by peers saying they’ve voted or are planning to. For instance, if your organization is targeting students from a particular college, recruit a volunteer from that college who’d then post reminders about the upcoming elections, and upload links to sites detailing the election process.

You should even consider teaming up with apps like Snapchat and Instagram as nonprofit TurboVote did, where they uploaded links for users to register to vote. Since Snapchat and Instagram users are mainly college students and young adults, these initiatives help increase voter turnout for youths aged 18-24.

Organizing Rallies with a Festive Atmosphere

Bernie Sanders was extremely successful in mobilizing youth in the 2016 elections to vote for him. One of the main reasons for this was the way his rallies and campaign speeches were organized: loud, with plenty of music and a fun carnival atmosphere. His rallies not only inspired youth but were also fun to attend.

So taking a leaf from Bernie’s book, do the same. Be it for an awareness drive or a voter registration event, organize the event in a way which gives it a fun and friendly vibe. Target areas which are frequented by youth such as malls or places near colleges and organize “community festivals” with the promise of good food, live music, welcoming atmosphere…and well, knowledge about the electoral process or the chance of getting registered as a voter! Get your volunteers to set up stalls and invite passersby to your event by handing out flyers and leaflets. You can start off with a small event and once you see its impact, scale its scope to target more youth. Of course, promote the event a week or two in advance on social media and send text reminders to people so that you get a decent attendance.

One-on-One Conversations

Personalized one-to-one conversations are shown to have the highest impact when mobilizing young voters. When canvassing, you’re essentially having a friendly conversation with the person at the door as opposed to forcefully trying to convince them to vote. Ensure that your volunteers canvas in areas and neighborhoods that are known to have a high density of college students; dorms and hostels make sense too.

Get students to volunteer for you so that their peers are likelier to be influenced by them. Using specific tools for canvassing will make volunteer management and tracking far simpler and lets campaign managers retain a higher level of control. When you have to reach out to much larger audiences where canvassing is not feasible (and still want to maintain one to one conversations) phone banking and peer to peer texting are your best bets.

Partnering with Popular Youth Centric Brands

It’s no secret that pop culture plays a significant role in influencing youth, and it certainly proves beneficial when getting millennials to vote. By partnering with youth-centric brands, you can vastly increase your reach among youth voters. These are brands that youth already relate to and have grown to trust. By channeling that trust into your cause, you stand a much higher chance of connecting with younger voters.

For instance, Civic Nation’s #VoteTogether campaign, an initiative aimed towards increasing voter participation by hosting parties, barbeque events, and parades near polling locations partnered up with MTV to target youth voters. By combining with the youth media brand’s plus1thevote campaign —which helps young people to register to vote while encouraging them to get their friends to do the same— Civic Nation have successfully increased the reach of their campaign.

Your organization should definitely consider similar partnerships to rally and mobilize youth into voting.

Educating Parents

While we’ve talked about educating youth themselves, studies have claimed that the voting habits of parents has a significant impact on whether their children vote or not.

In other words, if parents don’t vote, there’s a strong chance that their children won’t either. And this actually makes sense: since voter participation is a habit inculcated in childhood, if a teenager grows up in a household where the parents don’t vote or discuss elections and the influence of politics, they are unlikely to be interested in the electoral process and voting.

So target the root cause of the problem. Organize seminars and events in areas such as low-income neighborhoods with a proven track record of low voter turnout amongst parents and middle-aged people. Inform them about the significance of actively participating in the electoral process and how their actions (or non-action, in this case) affect their children’s mindsets. Lay emphasis on how young adults should be able to decide their own future and when parents vote, their children are motivated to do so themselves. If the barrier to voting is a lack of information regarding the voting process, ensure that you disseminate the complete know-how among parents while clearing doubts and answering queries.

Increasing young voter turnout is crucial in getting millennials hooked to the electoral process early on so that they grow up to be civic-minded, well informed, and responsible citizens. Use the strategies and techniques suggested above to get them out to vote.