When Jessica Alba talks, men usually listen, so it stands to reason that a lot of people will be looking at her new ad for the Muzzler 2008. The Muzzler, according to Alba’s enthusiastic pitch, is this great device that can silence you and make your life free of responsibility by making you not vote. Even “Heroes” hottie Hayden Panettiere loves it!
Meanwhile, women looking for a studly new viral video can look at Google’s “Five Friends” where Leonardo DiCaprio and a bevy of other A-list stars profanely urge viewers not to vote. Oh, except they’re being sarcastic, because they actually do want you to vote. And they also want you to forward the video on to five friends, because apparently registering to vote is like a middle school chain letter (if five of your friends register to vote, then you’ll marry your crush in three years).
As Joe Biden parroted over and over in last week’s V.P. debate, this is likely the most important election we’ll ever get to vote in. That makes it all the more important that as many people as possible be allowed to vote. The effort to urge youths to vote has been overwhelming this year and celebrities have been a large part of that campaign. Besides those viral videos, posters and TV spots have added some uncharacteristic star power to the voter registration effort. Even Bow Wow is walking across the country to stir up enthusiasm. But even among the normal folk, there’s been a crushing wave of campaigns designed for people to sign up to vote.
This year has already seen millions of new voters. The endless primary season meant that normally ignored states suddenly mattered, leading to a rush of new voters. According to the Associated Press, this spring saw a 64 percent increase in new voter registration over the same period in 2004. And that doesn’t even include the rush of applications coming in as registration deadlines approach this month.
The focus of this effort has been on the youth. This is the first election for millions of people and the issues at stake will have far-reaching implications: alternative energy strategies, the economy, health care and foreign relations. While every election cycle has seen a huge campaign to get youth to register to vote, this year’s blitz has been unprecedented. Teams have been using YouTube and Facebook to reach out, tools that weren’t available before. While Rock the Vote has been a major force since 1986, they’ve been almost silent this year, drowned out by the mass of other campaigns. Even Northwestern hasn’t been immune. NU Decides, a non-partisan group aiming to register new voters on campus, has given out about 600 applications for absentee ballots.
However, the key is getting the new voters to show up. According to a poll in the Wall Street Journal, only 49 percent of youth voters said they were “very interested” in the election and only 54 percent said they would definitely vote. Getting young people out to the polls has been difficult- in 2004, only 47 percent of eligible voters from age 18 to 24 actually came out to the polls. Maybe they’re concerned about the inherent risks of leaving the house on Election Day, but for whatever reason, young people just haven’t voted in the past. And even though Obama has energized young adults, even recruiting most of those new voters, there’s still no guarantee that they’ll be coming out this time. But if they do, they could tip the polls. Almost two-thirds of new voters prefer Obama, and one pollster estimates that they could provide a two percent bump in the popular vote and push him over the brink. That demographic may be the key to the election, topping the hockey moms, the NASCAR dads, the Joe Six-Packs and the Hillary supporters.
Obama’s popularity with new voters means that his camp has been paying special attention to that demographic. In the primaries, he embarked on a 50 state registration mission, trying to get as many first-time voters into the polls as possible. There will likely be an increased push to ensure that all those new voters actually make it to the polls or mail their absentee ballots. NU Decides is planning a series of themed weeks to get people excited to vote and none of these viral campaigns is going away.
But after this month, don’t expect this assault on young voters to stop. If they come out and affect the election like predicted, politicians will realize the power of this demographic. Young voters will become the it demographic, not only in theory, but in practice. It could usher in a new era of involvement, with candidates reaching out to the youth and us giving back at the polls. It might even lead to an uptick in voter turnout, and we all know we could really use that.
And hey, if it means more Jessica Alba and Leonardo DiCaprio, I don’t think anyone’s going to complain.