Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Rock The Vote is a Sinking Ship

The following article wants to make the point that Rock The Vote, that legendary MTV-generation votegetting machine, is going under because its leaders lacked nonprofit management experience.

Perhaps. It certainly seems to be the case when they hold fundraisers that result in them OWING money to creditors. But might the larger issue be their partisanship? Rock The Vote was, for all intents and purposes, a liberal voter registration organization. As much as they wanted, hoped, and maybe? tried to be nonpartisan, they were--and were seen to be by decisionmakers and political stakeholders--as a big fat liberal organization. And when you lose bipartisan credibility as a major player in the youth voting realm, you lose power. And when that happens, liberals stop giving you money--money that used to hide the fact that you got so little from conservatives.

In addition, RTV's quasi-liberality hurt its effectiveness programmatically, never mind financially:

The mass influx of liberal votes from college campuses has become a myth, said Carrie Donovan, the youth director for the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).

"I think a lot of people still assume that college students are very liberal based on how young people used to be," Donovan said. "It's definitely not like that; the difference is only maybe five percentage points, not 30."

A year ago, it seemed Democrats had lost college students altogether. A survey conducted by the Harvard Institute of Politics (IOP) in October 2003 found that President Bush's approval rating was higher among college students than with the rest of the populace. He led by seven points among college students over any Democratic challenger.

By Election Day, Bush's support among college students fell, but IOP data suggests that it had more to do with the war in Iraq than the president's conservative policies. Bush's approval rating among college students slipped as disapproval of the war grew, but they still said he would "keep the country safer and more secure" than Kerry and favored his "clear stance on the issues," according to the survey.

Although Democrats carried the youth vote in the 2004 election, young people are not the Democratic demographic they once were. According to exit polling data from the Voter News Service and CBS, senior citizens were more likely than those aged 18 to 29 to vote for Democrats in four of the five prior elections.

Yet there was a time when the idea of the liberal youth held true. It originated when the voting age was lowered to 18 during the Vietnam War, leading hordes of anti-war activists and potential draftees to the polls.

Through the early 1980s, young people were a cornerstone of the Democratic Party. The party won 18 to 29-year-olds in every election, and in 1976, Jimmy Carter won the youth vote by a wide enough margin to take the presidency despite losing every other age group.

In 1984, Ronald Reagan swept through his second campaign, taking 59 percent of the youth vote. That election, said University political science professor Michael Krassa, changed the face of conservatism for young people. Reagan made conservatives more likeable, Krassa said.

In subsequent years, fewer young people voted for Democrats. Krassa added that although there were more conservatives on campus, they still felt outnumbered. Because people in the minority are less likely to vote, the shift from liberal to conservative could be even greater than the voting data shows.

Part of the reason the trend has been overlooked is that it has happened over time. Krassa said the line between conservative and liberal has been shifting for decades.

"If Nixon ran for president today, it would have to be as a Democrat," Krassa said. "His social policies were more liberal than Clinton's."

As young people shift, the ranks of the College Republicans are swelling. Almost 53,000 new members joined the organization in the time leading up to the election, said Doug McGregor, the deputy executive director of the College Republican National Committee (CRNC).

LA Times

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