Reaching Younger Voters (or, Why President Obama Went In Between Two Ferns)

Last week, my colleague Alex Bratty described the challenges of reaching younger voters. Alex wrote:

“With the explosion of technology, more and more Americans – particularly in the younger (age) cohorts – are multitasking with devices and no longer devoting their attention to a single activity.”

This is especially for important for Republicans to keep in mind because the younger age cohorts who Alex mentions are the voters Republicans MOST need to improve with. Remember, according to exit poll data, Mitt Romney won voters age 40+, who made up 64% of the electorate. However, Obama won the election because he ran so far ahead of Romney with voters  age 18-39. The President was especially strong with voters age 18-29, winning them by a 23 point margin (37% Romney/60% Obama).

Data from the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal national survey, conducted jointly by Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research, demonstrates that despite  forecasts of Republicans victories in the mid-term elections, Republicans continue to struggle with younger voters. For example

  • President Obama’s approval rating with 18-34 year olds is a solid 53% approve/40% disapprove.
  • The President’s numbers on the personal feelings scale are similar, with 50% of 18-34 year olds  saying they have positive feelings about the President, and 41% saying they have negative feelings.
  • The Democratic Party’s numbers on this same scale are 40% positive/26% negative among 18-34 year olds.
  • Personal feeling numbers for the Republican Party are upside down with this age group, at 20% positive and 44% negative.
  • On the President’s health care law, 63% of 18-34 year olds say it is either working well or needs only minor modifications.

These numbers make it clear that the Republican Party needs to do a better job of reaching out to younger voters. It is also worth noting that while the message we use to reach out to these voters is important, so to is the medium.

In early March, during his aggressive push to encourage people to sign up for the Affordable Care Act, President Obama appeared on the web series “Between Two Ferns,” which stars popular actor and comedian Zach Galifinakis. Many were quick to criticize the President for appearing on this show, most notably Bill O’Reilly, who said that appearing on such a show is “not something that (Abraham) Lincoln would do.” (Of course, Lincoln also would not have appeared on a Fox News program. The internet and television did not exist in the 1860s.)

Rather than criticizing the President, Republicans should be looking into ways that they can appear on similar types of programs. According to recent data from Pew’s Center for Journalism, 74% of 18-29 year olds watch comedy videos online. President Obama’s appearance on the show may not have been something Lincoln would have done, but it WAS  good politics; Obama went where the voters are.

Some Republican campaigns this cycle are already doing good work in using humorous online videos to promote their candidate. Recently, Mitch McConnell’s campaign team shared user-created videos that took B-roll footage of the Minority Leader and inserted into the credit sequences of old sitcoms, such as Family Matters.  This was simple, effective, and yes, funny. The Republican campaign committees have also done a good job of utilizing humor and web videos to promote various campaigns.

That said, we as a party can certainly be doing more. We can’t hesitate to go In Between Two Ferns.

Public Opinion Strategies