Now that both the Republican and Democrat national conventions are over, how will the 2012 election look different for Generation Y? America was reminded of some important lessons during the presidential election in 2008. Barak Obama defeated a much more experienced John McCain to become the first black president in American history. It was a milestone for our country.
Many of the lessons we learned were from the youngest voters in that election:
- They wanted a new way to communicate, through web communities.
- They wanted politics to change—to stop fighting and start collaborating.
- They wanted a cause to believe in, to invest in, and to hope for.
- They wanted change—and got it in a young, charming African-American.
I believe there are new lessons in store for us in the 2012 election. We have seen a shift in culture over the last four years; younger members of Generation Y are different than their elders. If I were to sit down and advise a presidential hopeful in the 2012 election, this is what I’d say to win the Gen Y vote in light of this shift:
1. Young voters are Demo-publicans.
They belong to neither party and to both. While some have declared their allegiance to a political group, the majority of them don’t like those affinities. They’re cause-driven not party-driven and most agree with both parties depending on the issue. For instance, they sympathize with immigrants (often a democrat issue) but also with the unborn (often a republican issue). The cause is human rights. Be sure you know which issues are front-and-center and communicate a clear vision for them.
2. Young voters will be more jaded this time.
The 2008 election was all about change and hope. Candidates like Ron Paul and Barak Obama appealed to young voters, much more than Baby Boomer candidates. However, the changes have been very slow or not at all. Idealism has diminished in twenty-somethings. A huge chunk of them are still unemployed, corruption is still large in corporate America and we’re still in Iraq and Afghanistan. You must be authentic and brutally honest, while casting a clear and hopeful vision.
3. Young voters will link to candidates they believe actually listen.
Perhaps this isn’t new—but an unusually high percentage of college students say they don’t believe the government listens to them. While young voters don’t have the innate need to get their own way, they do have the need to be heard. In 2008, 18-26 year olds felt like Obama listened in the town hall meetings. Today, not so much. It might be the idealism of youth, but young adults want to weigh in, and candidates must somehow demonstrate they’re hearing and responding.
4. Young voters want candidates to capitalize on the newest technology.
Let’s face it, we’ve seen new variations on technology that didn’t even exist four years ago. Twitter will be a major factor—both broadcasts and direct tweets; as will Facebook groups and other on-line communities; blog feedback from voters will be huge, YouTube videos, on-line town hall meetings including discussion, and all sorts of other social media will play a role in harnessing the votes of young adults. Candidates must show they are willing to utilize these tools to connect with them.
5. Young voters want to be part of a revolution, not merely an election.
Recent events in the news have sparked the idea that revolutions can happen rapidly among teens and twenty-somethings. Egypt overthrew their president with a demonstration that took less than a month and was ignited by a Facebook conversation. Dramatic changes can happen when this huge population called Gen Y (which now is America’s largest population) gets together. If our next president wants their vote, he or she must offer this kind of leadership.
The bottom line? America’s youngest voters want…
- A job that matters
- A green environment
- A commitment to human rights
- A government whose image is progressive
- A leader who thinks and acts outside the box
On Saturday, I was interviewed on this very issue on the Ken Coleman radio show.
Click below to listen now: