How to Get 18-35 Year-Olds to Vote for Your Candidate

Jane Fleming Kleeb is the Executive Director of the Young Voter PAC which helps Democratic candidates and State Parties win with the 18-35 year-old vote through endorsements, on-the-ground support, training, strategy and money. She is a regular on Fox and MSNBC.

November 6th--Election Day 2007--is just around the corner for folks in many states. If you're reading this, you probably don't need to be convinced to target young people to vote in the upcoming elections. If you still need convincing, you might want to check out an article in the Politico that laid out some statistics.

The bottom line is if you target and talk to young people they will vote. Not rocket science, true enough. But with Election Day looming for many campaign staffers, volunteers and candidates, the Young Voter PAC thought we would offer up 5 activities that your campaign can do to get 18-35 year-olds to the polls. Don't fret if you have not started targeting young voters yet. You still have time since many young people, and yes even older voters, don't pay attention until right at the end.

Each idea below is linked to an organization that has done these activities many times and they should be looked to as a resource for more detailed information and sample materials. Don't reinvent the wheel, young voter groups like those below, are here as a resource.

  1. Go Trick or Voting. Get a bunch of volunteers and your candidate and head to neighborhood streets and community Halloween parties. Create signs saying "Don't Be Tricked By (insert other candidate's name), Vote (insert your candidate's name)" and have volunteers carry the signs. You can even make old-school sandwich boards for volunteers to wear. Get volunteers to dress up as famous Democrats or people that highlight progressive issues that the campaign has focused on during the election cycle (e.g. nurses and doctors to symbolize health care for all). Use this Halloween holiday as a creative time to reiterate your message, get some earned media and increase visibility.

  2. Create "Pledge to Vote" cards. Research (and common sense) tells us that if a young person "pledges" to vote they vote in higher numbers. Groups like YDA and the PIRGs have been using pledge cards for years and it works. Simply create the pledge to vote cards and arm your volunteers with clipboards. Create fun contest to have them compete with one another to get as many pledge cards in a few hours. Use the information on the pledge cards (make sure you get name, email, cell, address) to contact young voters before and on Election Day.

  3. Do a bar crawl. You can also choose to do a coffee house crawl, an elementary school crawl, a supermarket get the point. Any place where 18-35 year-olds hang out in your targeted areas is where you want to send the candidate and a group of energetic volunteers. Make sure you all wear campaign t-shirts and bring quarter-sheet sized information flyers about your candidate. When you go to places where young people hang out, they don't want to lug around a big pamphlet, so all you need to do is use some text from existing lit, give it a younger spin and create it so there are 4 flyers per page. Make sure the info sheets on your candidate have the date of the election, where someone can find their polling location and the number to call if they face problems voting. You can even bring "Pledge to Vote" cards to the bar crawl to make the crawl more effective since this way you will have contact information of the young voters you talked to for GOTV.

  4. Make a Voter Guide. We all get busy and can't keep up with the candidates and ballot initiatives that are happening on Election Day. Make it easy for young voters and create a voter guide that lists who/what to vote for and why. Leave the voter guides at places like coffee shops, college cafeterias and people's door steps. You can also hand them out as people are headed home from work and school in heavy trafficked areas like bus stops, metro centers, schools and supermarkets.

  5. Throw a Party at the Polls. Why not make polling locations fun. Bring food, music, signs, candidate lit, balloons, just about anything to make it fun and welcoming. We forget that voting can at times be intimidating. Placing volunteers at polls, especially those that are populated with a lot of young people, and making the atmosphere fun can increase the likelihood of a young voter stopping and going in to vote.

Above all else, keep young people on your GOTV call and walk list.

Resources get tight in the last days of an election, but the biggest mistake your campaign will make is to cut young people from your GOTV lists. Campaigns usually cut young voters because they have no vote history or they don't have the frequency of voting as older voters. Think in terms of a young voter-this may be their first eligible election so of course they have no vote history...yet! Go against the grain and leave young voters on your lists.

When trying to get young people to the polls, you must throw out the conventional wisdom of "young people don't vote." Young people don't vote at the same rate as older voters because they are not targeted. Talk to young voters and they will vote. Having other young people and the candidate do the asking and information giving is even better. Don't attempt to do all of the above in the last week of the election, but at least try one of the activities. Your volunteers and fellow staffers will get a refreshing break from other campaign activities and your candidate just might win because of the youth vote in the process.

Want More?

In addition to the organizations linked to above, check out the Pink Bunnies project by Forward Montana and creative ads by New Era Colorado. Both are innovative state-based organizations targeting young voters.

For links to research and case studies visit or go right to and download "Young Voter Mobilization Tactics I and II." All of the guides on Rock the Vote's site highlight best practices and research by respected young voter researchers and pollsters including Celinda Lake, David Nickerson, Donald Green and Alan Gerber.