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Opinion

How can Democrats stop the Republican tide this election? Young voters.

Our own analysis shows that if 18-to-29-year olds voted as they did in 2008, they could potentially flip the election for Democrats. But efforts to woo back the youth vote – like Obama's Daily Show appearance – may be too little, too late.

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Keeping young voters engaged

So how can the Democratic Party keep young people engaged?

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One common criticism of the Obama administration is that the rhetorical strategy that positioned candidate Obama as the leader of a movement for change is ill-suited to the realities of policymaking.

This could be true. But even our cursory analysis suggests that a “hope" and "change” strategy is quite well-suited to young people who thirst for big answers to big problems. Research consistently shows that young people tend to be more optimistic about the future than older people. This disposition makes them especially receptive to ambitious promises for change.

The original message wasn’t wrong. Democrats just have to find a way to sustain this movement, counteracting the traditional ebb of young voters at midterm time.

More sustained youth-outreach is probably part of the answer. Democrats – now led by a former community organizer – should heed the lesson that real social movements require consistent local contact during the 24 months between each election. This could mean strengthening local forums for young people to speak with Members of Congress and providing them with opportunities to participate in meaningful policy discussions.

This will require the party to connect with young voters on their own terms, even when the realities of governing force Democrats to become the party of incremental compromise rather than the party of national transformation. Embracing those two opposed identities – change and compromise – is, no doubt, a difficult task. But if Democrats hope to sustain a majority, it may be a necessary one.

It may be too late for youth to make a big difference on November 2, but it’s not too late to change the future of the party long-term.

Daniel Altschuler is a Copeland Fellow at Amherst College, was a Rhodes scholar, and volunteered on the Obama ‘08 campaign. Sam Gill is a political consultant, was also a Rhodes scholar, and contributes to ThePublicPhilosopher.com.

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