From where we're sitting perched up here in the top left corner of the United States, we have a nice perspective on this old country of ours. If there's one thing Hella Bus is good at, its taking national perspectives and situating them in local contexts (also exploitation of babies). After all, we want you - oh loyal Hella Bus reader - to be plugged into our local Washington communities, but with a finger on the pulse of what's happening nationally. Regarding young people in politics, there's much to be learned from this crazy election.
So let's see what we hath wrought:
Nationally, young voter turnout looks to be about 20.9%, which is within the margin of error for off-year election turnout, meaning that the large-scale media narrative of voters showing up is not an accurate representation of what happened. Despite reports of their demise, young voters remain a vital voting block.
That said, investment in young voter work decreased significantly, to the point where the New York Times noted criticism of groups like Organizing For America for abandoning young voters. Despite young voters being the largest untapped source of progressive votes, they were not prioritized by national players.
As David Plouffe has noted, the youth vote of 2008 didn't simply happen on its own accord - it was the product of intentional capacity building (skip to 1:10 for the money quote).
According to CIRCLE estimates, in states where there are non-partisan young voter-outreach groups (like the Bus, although Washington hasn't provided results to know if we're included in this), young voter participation is up, with 21.4%. This is an especially stark contrast with states where there were no young voter-groups, which clocked in at a 20.5% turnout. Supporting young-voter infrastructure pays dividends, especially in years where there is an anti-progressive wave.
Let's bring it home: the Bus is people powered - we run a very lean operation, and our successes come from the energy and - yes - the enthusiasm of young people. In a year that saw record amounts of money pumped into the political process, very very little of it went to engage young voters. The Bus was able to move the dial without the support of millions of dollars. Imagine if a larger percentage of each campaign's resources had gone towards engaging young voters, and the impact that would have.
This year, the Bus made over 30,000 voter contacts, partnered with groups in Spokane, Vancouver, Bellingham, the Tri-Cities, and, yes, even Seattle. On Halloween, hundreds of young people in Seattle, Spokane and Vancouver donned costumes and knocked on thousands of doors to get out the vote. Clark County, King County and Spokane County each saw record-breaking voter turnout. In a year with an alleged enthusiasm gap, we saw enthusiasm in every corner of the state.
Washington state politics is at a crossroads. Down one path we have a political firmament that is dominated by narrow special interests, and yes, money. Down the other is the model that the Bus and other human-powered organizations represent: a public that is authentically engaged, groups that are energized and driven by volunteer oomph, and a more representative political process.
We choose the latter. And we know you do too. That means, 2011 is a year of building infrastructure, of training leaders, of doing all the things the Bus - and you - are excited to do (we may also continue to exploit babies). As soon as that one lonely intern at the Washington State elections office finishes counting up our millions of ballots while the rest of the country goes on about its day, we'll follow up with more Washington State specific analysis. Until then, high five - we like you.