Corbyn’s Fountain of Youth Could Be Secret Sauce for Democratic Wins in 2018.
Very Serious People in Washington, DC are waking up this morning, hungover from their #ComeyDay-inspired binges, to a startling fact: a complete 180 in British parliament after Theresa May and the Conservative Party got walloped at the polls yesterday. While I’m sure there will be the usual griping about the unreliability of polls, the extravagance of hiring overpriced political consultants to run excessive digital ads for the Tories, and the like, by FAR the most consequential lesson that we can take away from the post-Brexit election in the UK is the staggering increase in turn out amongst young voters.
As David Leonhardt notes in his New York Times piece this morning:
“Early signs suggest that a surge in the turnout of younger voters — who backed Labour and its proudly leftist leader, Jeremy Corbyn — explains at least part of the surprise. If so, the potential lessons for the Democratic Party will be large.”
In the 2015 General Election in the UK, a mere 43% of voters under-35 cast a ballot, a frighteningly low number that is reminiscent of the 49% turnout amongst American millennials in the 2016 presidential election. But as we turn from the Exit Poll to reading actual election data, we’re seeing that young people in the UK have far surpassed that number in the 2017 election. One youth advocate in the UK reports:
An turnout increase of 30% from 2015 to 2017 would be a shocking result. Hell, even an increase half that size would be tremendous. (NB: no one knows what the exact increase in voter turnout amongst young voters was in the UK yet, we should find out in a few weeks. But the result shows that it must have been massive). As an organizer at NextGen Climate, which ran the largest youth turnout organizing effort in 2016 in the US, we know the impact of a campaign contact is usually measured in single digit increases in turnout at best. Something is happening here and, as Leonhardt points out, Democrats must take notice.
I want to offer a few different potential lessons for the Democrats coming out of yesterday’s shocking news of massive increase in youth turnout. In other words, how can we get some of Corbyn’s Secret Stuff and win?:
- According to YouGov, 75% of young voters opposed Brexit in 2016, a staggering result in its own right. But you’ll notice that Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party didn’t limit its conversations with young voters to be all anti-Brexit, all the time. There are several factions within the Democratic Party who feel just going all anti-Trump, all the time will be enough to motivate drop-off voters in the 2018 elections. They see millennials (roughly 64% of whom voted for someone other than Trump in 2016), African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-American voters (constituency groups who are overwhelmingly young, by the way) as a key to electoral success. But they are investing more time and money into researching the best messaging to persuade older, white voters, assuming that an anti-Trump message will be enough. This is a dangerous assumption. Mostly because….
- Corbyn and the Labour manifesto was unapologetically specific, populist, and left-leaning. And that strategy worked, especially when compared to center-left nominees who tried to triangulate and moderate.
I mean, look at this. It’s like Bernie Sanders fan fiction:
3. There are elections in 2017 and 2018 that will be decided completely on whether young people register and turn out to vote. In Britain, 400,000+ new young voters registered on the last day of eligibility, and accounted for 2/3s of the 1.1 million new registrants this year. That sort campaign and independent group investment in changing the make-up of the electorate rather than persuading the existing reliable voters is unheard of in a mid-term election in the United States, but will be the Democrats most reliable way of guaranteeing electoral success in 2018. Registration and motivation of sporadic voters will be critical if Dems want to achieve victory in 2018.
Lastly, youth turnout in midterm elections in the United States usually languishes around 15%. That is abysmal. If Democrats and their allies (myself included) are happy to assume that we can do nothing to radically increase that number, then we are doing our party, our candidates, and (most importantly) our voters an immense disservice. The Labour gains last night show that a nuanced, progressive issue platform combined with deliberate investment in registration and motivation of young voters can be a game changer.
Now grab a clipboard, and let’s go win in 2018.