Over much of this primary season, if there’s one constant I’ve seen from various self-identified young people (under 30), it’s that the Democratic Party needs to reach out to them, to do what they want before they’ll consider voting for Democrats. There usually follows a laundry list of demands, along with saying that the party should select candidates who would “excite the base,” or more properly, excite them. They even have reasons why the party isn’t doing that, things like “corporate control,” “the Establishment,” and of course the ever popular “Blue Dogs.” The reality why the party isn’t reaching out them is what they don’t realize or want to admit: They have it backwards.
Back a little over a year ago, I wrote about that in a post called “The horse goes before the cart.” In that, I said this:
Let me state this again: Political parties pay attention to voters. Honest to god, guaranteed to show up at the polls every election, regular voters. If you’re not one of those, your agenda item isn’t terribly important to them, no matter what an opinion poll shows, how many people read your blog, or say they support you.
Which is why the Democratic Party (and the Republican Party) isn’t paying a lot of attention to them, and won’t pay a lot of attention to their issues or demands. Young people are not reliable voters.
While all age brackets show a drop in midterm elections, young people average around 20%, and even in presidential years over half of them won’t turn out. Unlike other age groups, it means they’re not often a real factor in elections. Nice to have, but not anything you want to rely on. This doesn’t just apply to general elections, it also applies to primaries. This current primary season has seen Bernie Sanders generate a lot of excitement in young people, with his supporters having a large social media presence, and turning out for huge rallies. The problem is that for all that excitement, they’re not turning up at the voting booth in numbers that exceed past primaries.
Which is why their demands to get them to vote don’t go anywhere. It’s getting things backwards. First you have to vote in a lot bigger percentages than young people have been doing. That’s the reason political parties pay attention to people over the age of 45, and various other groups, because they turn out to vote. Second, you have to do it consistently. Even in “down years,” over half the people over 45 are guaranteed to show up at the voting booth, while young people are doing well if one-fifth of them show up.
There’s another part of that that helps get that attention. Learn to say “Yes.” It all starts with grassroots action:
The “grassroots reality” is that many local Democratic Parties aren’t exclusive, or “unwelcoming.” They’re more often than not desperate for help, for anyone to step up and volunteer. They even reach out on occasion to various activists. The problem is that they kept getting “No” for an answer, and after a while, they stopped asking. Sure, if they made all these changes, maybe they might get more people involved, but that’s not guaranteed – and the betting line is more in favor that it wouldn’t work. As the old saying goes “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” or in politics, the people you know are going to work for you and show up to vote are worth more than the people who might think about it if you do something.
Keep that up for a while, and you become part of a group of voters that political parties will pay attention to, and start changing to give it to you. In fact, if you’re willing to pitch in and work, you can get those changes started. Yes, it’s work, no it’s not exciting, and it will take time. But you know what? It’ll get what you want a lot quicker than waiting around complaining in the hope that things will change for you. But if you want to keep getting it backwards, don’t be surprised if you keep getting ignored.