In 2008, when a surge of young voters helped propel Obama to victory, Democrats and Republicans realized the importance of capturing the youth vote. Although the issues have changed in 2012, party members are more determined than ever to reach out to young voters.
Voters ages 18 to 29 comprised 17 percent of the actual voting population, according to a memorandum conducted by Lorraine Minnite, research director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization Project Vote.
"The 2008 Obama presidential campaign specifically targeted young voters, but this usually doesn't happen on a large scale," said Benjamin Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics and an adjunct assistant professor of political science at Rider University. First-time voter registration is unique in that it is "relatively inexpensive to do."
Both parties tend to focus the most attention on areas with lower social economic status, since individuals with less education and less wealth are less likely to have registered previously. Minnite's memorandum showed that there was an increase in first-time voting participation among minority and low-income groups in 2008. Nineteen percent of blacks voted for the first time, up from 17 percent in 2004, and 28 percent of Latinos voted for the first time, compared with 22 percent in 2004.
Gender is another factor parties must consider in targeting youth. "Government isn't just about voting for people, especially for young women," said Joyce Walker, vice chair of the Cherry Hill Democratic Party. Women's reproductive health has taken the place of the healthcare bill as one of the most contested concerns. Women "need to be just as vocal" as men with the advent of this "war on women's health." Same-sex marriage, another hot button issue in 2012, has added to the significance of gender in campaign strategy.
One way that parties reach out to young voters is through registration drives, which often occur on college campuses, but aside from these drives, there are no significant resources expended to attract the next generation of voters.
"College students are critical," said Cherry Hill-based campaign consultant Jay Lassiter. Among this age group, he said, "There is an increasing popularity in voting by mail."
Additionally, Walker said that young potential voters are targeted at the local level through community service events, such as "Suited Up and Ready to Go," a drive to collect men's and women's business attire, and walks for various causes. High school and college students "have a lot of energy." Their enthusiasm about giving back makes community service events ideal locations for party advocacy.
Outside of the parties, organizations such as Rock the Vote encourage America's youth to take to the voting booths through youth-friendly tactics, such as incorporating music, pop culture, and grassroots organization in their campaigns.
And, as any teenager could point out, the future lies in social media. Even if candidates do not have a substantial budget for targeting first-time voters, the Internet provides a wealth of opportunities to lure young eyes.
"I think both parties want to court first-time voters," said Lassiter. "It's all about appealing to online sensibilities." When it comes to the young, "very savvy" generation, creativity can be a more valuable commodity than cold, hard cash. Take, for instance, the viral "Obama Girl" video, which Lassiter described as a "novel use of media." Not to mention that the videos on the official Obama 2008 YouTube page garnered 14.5 million hours' worth of viewing, equivalent to $47 million in TV air time.
Another benefit of the online media strategy is the ability to "micro-target" potential voters. When it comes to television, it is nearly impossible to gauge who is viewing a candidate's ads. Since 2008, the first election year in which online media was a major catalyst, an increasingly larger portion of the campaign game is played online. With the success of Obama's online campaign at reaching America's youth through YouTube and Twitter, Republicans now strive to emulate social media efforts to bridge the gap.
For instance, the College Republican National Committee has launched an issue campaign called "Don't Put It On Our Tab." According to the CRNC website, the purpose of the campaign is to illustrate "the negative impact of Washington's spending" on young Americans. The campaign is tied into a CRNC YouTube channel.
"It's not about a magical means of communicating," said Lassiter. "It's about getting your message out there."