Nuts & Bolts: Inside a Democratic campaign: 50 years since the 26th amendment

Nuts & Bolts: Inside a Democratic campaign: 50 years since the 26th amendment

Welcome back to the weekly Nuts & Bolts Guide to small campaigns. Every week I try to tackle issues I’ve been asked about. With the help of other campaign workers and notes, we address how to improve and build better campaigns, or explain issues that impact our party.

July 1 marked a major moment in United States history. The 26th Amendment gave citizens age 18 and over the right to vote in America. The amendment is simple:

Sec. 1 The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.

Sec. 2 The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

As I read fights over voting rights, I often look back and think of the heart of the 26th amendment as what satisfies any claim by Congress to make sure people have the right to vote. Right there in Section 2 of the 26th Amendment, Congress is provided the power to enforce an amendment to the constitution that guarantees anyone 18 years or older shall not be denied or abridged the right to vote. In most direct terms, though, the 26th amendment was about providing a younger voting age to provide for more participation in our electoral process. Youth engagement is critical for Democratic success at the polls and for our survival as a democracy. The moment young people completely give up on democracy is a terrible day for a voter-led government. On the 50th anniversary of the 26th, let’s celebrate by talking about youth engagement.

Rock the Vote?
Does anyone remember this?

Or this?

Okay. Videos and efforts to turn out youth voters have existed for as long as I can remember, going back to my middle school age—which is before that Madonna video above. The truth is, Democratic efforts are built on young people. We know and have known for quite some time that non-Baby Boomers see reality very differently. I always think of it this way: My parents grew up in a world where a high school diploma put them on a career track to full homeownership at pocket change in comparison to today’s dollars, a car, and kids, with no real debt. That just isn’t at all the same today. As generations get further away from the Baby Boomers, it gets harder. Despite all of these campaigns, though, youth turnout was never very good. The election of 2020 helped change that, as we see in this data from CIRCLE:

According to CIRCLE’s exclusive estimates, youth turnout was much higher in the 2020 election than in 2016.

Our calculations, based on votes counted as of November 18, suggest that 52%-55% of voting-eligible young people, ages 18-29, cast a ballot in the 2020 presidential election. Using the same methodology and data from a week after the election in 2016, we had previously estimated that youth voter turnout in 2016 was 42-44%.

We estimate that the youth share of the vote in this election is 17%. That’s based on data from the National Election pool national exit poll conducted by Edison Research. By comparison, the youth share of the vote in 2016 from the same source was 16%.

This is where things become incredibly important. Youth voter turnout is, frankly, one of the big differences between Joseph Biden being president and Donald J. Trump being president. Cutting across all groups, young voters showed up, but even showing up at a higher rate than other groups—primarily older Republicans—that also showed up at higher rates. The result? We needed one to balance the other. In Georgia, young voters went 58-39 for Biden. Look at the results in that state and see the difference this makes on Election Day.

Celebrating being part of the process

The League of Women Voters sums up the experience by a young voter:

As a 20-year-old, I was able to vote for the first time in the 2020 national election. This election was particularly important to me because of the divided state of the government and the nation as a whole. Due to COVID-19, I was unable to physically go to a voting booth, so I filled out an absentee ballot for my home state of New York.

I had waited for years to finally put my political knowledge to action, and this ballot gave me the opportunity to take part in something greater than myself: the democratic process.

This is great. Knowing that young voters found 2020 important is a fantastic piece of information for Democratic voters. The 2022 election could be even more important—even without a president on the ballot. We will be electing the Congress that will confirm the next president, and frankly, I am not as certain that some of the GQP followers would vote to certify the valid electoral college if they didn’t like the vote. They would almost certainly work to stop any legislation on the Democratic agenda, and would turn two years into a madhouse. The Supreme Court would be held hostage and Biden’s agenda would grind to a halt—all of which are a problem for a reelection.

The Harvard Kennedy School gives us some hope toward 2022:

Less than one year after Barack Obama’s election, 24% of young Americans considered themselves to be politically active (fall 2009 poll). Twelve years later, we find the share of politically active Americans increased by half — and now 36% are politically active. The most politically active among this cohort are young Blacks (41% politically active).

Over the last five years, on a host of issues ranging from health care, to climate, immigration, poverty, and affirmative action–young Americans are increasingly more likely to favor government intervention. For example, we found:

  • A 19-point increase in agreement with the statement “Qualified minorities should be given special preferences in hiring and education” (now 33%).
  • An 18-point increase in agreement with the statement “Government should do more to curb climate change, even at the expense of economic growth” (now 55%).
  • A 16-point increase since 2016 in agreement with “The government should spend more to reduce poverty” (now 61%).
  • A 16-point increase in “Basic health insurance is a right for all people, and if someone has no means of paying for it, the government should provide it” (now 64%).
  • An 8-point increase in agreement with “Recent immigration into this country has done more good than harm (now 37%).

The positions benefit Democratic candidates. Turning out those voters to the polls will mean a great deal in determining our success. 

The rapid rise among young Black voters who consider themselves politically active is exactly why Republicans work to stop people from getting to the polls. It is also exactly why Democratic efforts have to work as hard as possible at making sure we do everything we can to help our young voters find their way to cast a ballot.

Sec. 2 The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The appropriate legislation remains HR. 1, the restoration of the Voting Rights Act, and any measure designed to prevent the systemic denial of the right to vote. How do we celebrate this important American anniversary on the Fourth of July weekend? We fight for voting rights and we remind young Americans we are in it with them to give them the opportunity to determine their own future.

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