Marching to the Ballot Box: Mobilizing the Progressive Base in 2018


March 24, 2018 was witness to an explosion of youth-led activism across the nation. Hundreds of thousands of protesters took their tweets to the streets to demand gun reform and set their sights on the ballot box. Protests erupted in 390 of 435 congressional districts in the U.S. “We’re going to take this to every election, to every state and every city,” David Hogg said in his speech at the March for Our Lives protest in Washington. “When people try to suppress your vote, and there are people who stand against you because you’re too young, we say, ‘No more!’”

1024px-March_for_Our_Lives_NYC_(40812).jpgA diverse coalition of young voters across the country are organizing ahead of the midterm elections, dedicated to “vote them out” and bring change up and down the ballot. With midterms just around the corner, progressive groups and campaign strategists need to engage an energized base ‒ and channel their energy to the polls.

Millennials, soon to be the largest bloc of eligible voters, are both more racially diverse and more likely to vote Democratic than generations before them: approximately 60% of millennials lean left and millennial women are 3x more likely to lean Democratic than Republican. Still, this is only good news for progressives if millennials show up on voting day. And historically, the millennial bloc has had a relatively low turnout at the ballot box.

So how can progressives turn out their base? By reaching millennials on the communications channels they use and energizing grassroots power online to funnel political activism to the polls.

In Pennsylvania this month, outside donors poured money into tv ads that supported the Republican candidate’s failed bid for congress in PA-18. It’s hardly surprising campaigns that fail to reach young voters online are having trouble at the polls: a study by GenForward this month reports a majority millennials, especially African-Americans, get their news online and on social media. With a robust digital campaign and a youth-oriented base, the 33 year-old democratic candidate Connor Lamb was victorious in PA-18, a district Trump won by 20 points in 2016.

The results of the recent elections in Pennsylvania, Alabama, and Virginia bear out a recent article in The New York Times arguing that while Obama-to-Trump voters have dominated strategists attention, Obama-to-nonvoters are a crucial segment of the progressive base. They are “mostly young and nonwhite,” democratic leaning, and woefully left out by previous modes of campaign outreach: only 43% of Obama-to-nonvoters were directly contacted by a candidate in 2016, while 66% of Obama-to-Clinton voters were.

As The New York Times put it, demographic shifts that support the progressive coalition are “meaningless if Democrats can’t get enough young people of color to the polls.” This was a clear failure during the presidential election in 2016: the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning And Engagement (CIRCLE) reports only 30% of millennials were directly contacted by any campaign. But Virginia’s flood of Democratic victories last fall signal the growing momentum of key demographics on the left in the wake of 2016. Democrats flipped over a dozen seats in the Virginia House ‒ the largest gain in more than 100 years, according to The Hill.

A crucial feature of the race was the massive turnout among millennial and minority voters, without whom Democrats would have struggled. In minority neighborhoods, Northman won  75% of the all votes, with more than 80% support in African-American precincts. Crucially, the margins in Hispanic precincts grew by 10 points. Overall, Northam earned support from 8 in 10 nonwhite voters. As The New York Times reported, Virginia’s election results revealed the power of “a rising coalition of women, minorities, and gay and transgender people who are solidly aligning with Democrats.”

The margins in VA among 18-29 year olds also skyrocketed. Compare Clinton and current VA Governor Terry McAuliffe’s margins among millennials with Northman’s: McAuliffe was up 5 points, Clinton was up 18 points, but Northman? Up 39 points. All in all, the youth vote in Virginia has doubled between 2009 and 2017. Getting millennial voters to the polls has historically been a struggle, particularly in off-year elections ‒ making 2017 a potential turning point for Democrats.

The growing presence of millennials in the polls underscores a massive opportunity for Democrats. As the Pew Research Center reports, though millennials are soon to be the biggest block of eligible voters in the U.S., they are far from the remaining the largest bloc of actual voters. Democrats need to mobilize their base of young and minority voters, and to do so means they need to build a robust digital organizing infrastructure that engages voters where they are: online.

The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are tremendously inspiring leaders for myriad of reasons, but their inclusive and technically savvy approach is particularly impressive. Emma Gonzales, one of the more vocal student activists, has 1.55 million followers on Twitter; that is twice as many followers as the NRA! Emma and her classmates enacted a massive campaign of digital organizing that leveraged popular support to mobilize one of the biggest protests since the Vietnam War.  

The Parkland students are model digital advocats and how progressives can harness real stories from real people to drive change in the real world. The Parkland students mobilized historic levels of action online for gun control; Democrats need systems to do this consistently, across the nation and for all kinds of issues. The March For Our Lives shows us that digital organizing is not just episodic it must be inherent in all progressive action in the 21st century. As the NRA and the organizers on the right lean on tools like uCampaign, progressive groups need to build their own digital infrastructure to meet them.  

The Tuesday Company aims to take up this vein of organizing and reach the rising progressive base of voters left out by traditional modes of organizing, especially millennials and communities of color. Tuesday’s eyes are on the midterms by helping progressives understand not just who they need to mobilize but how and most importantly, by providing a scalable digital infrastructure poised to mobilize massive movements in 2018 and beyond.

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