I’ll Drink To That: Politics as Pop Culture
I snapped this photo the other day in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago. Instead of advertising a game, or American Idol, this local bar was hyping the next Democratic debate (along with drink specials). To me, this image encapsulates much of what voter mobilization groups are trying to achieve – making civic participation part of the social glue of America.
At HeadCount (www.headcount.org), a nonpartisan group that registers voters at concerts, we say we are “tapping the energy of the shared experience.” We’re generally referring to the shared concert experience – the incredible sense of community that abounds at live music events. But it can really apply to any sort of group activity. American politics is changing because of the electoral process is more a part of popular culture than any time in recent memory. This phenomenon has very real implications on who votes (and ultimately who gets elected).
HeadCount’s role in all this is two-fold. The first piece is getting musicians engaged and addressing their individual fan bases, reminding them to vote and participate. Unlike Hollywood actors (who I think most would agree have had little affect on public opinion or engagement), musicians have strong connections with their fans. We specifically target grassroots-oriented acts whose fan groups form social communities, and work with artists to spread the “vote” message from the stage, via MySpace, e-mail, PSAs, a documentary and every other platform we can think of.
The second thing we do, and the piece that really sets us apart from other fine groups in the voter mobilization space, is we register voters on site at events. There’s no substitute for putting a clipboard, a pen and a voter registration form in someone’s hand. We’ll do this at literally 1,000 concerts this year. So when a young person hears Dave Matthews or The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir implore them to vote, they don’t have to go far or put anything in the mail to sign up and register. All they really need to do is sign their name. We also get their e-mail address and hopefully a cell phone number, and hit them with the best possible get out the vote tactics.
I’ve heard many times that registering voters is not enough. And that is true. But the stats point to the fact the registration is indeed the greatest barrier that keeps young people from voting. A full 81% of registered 18-24 year olds did vote in the last presidential election, not far off the national average of 88%. But nearly half of Americans in that age group weren’t registered at all, accounting for the huge gap in voter participation between the youngest cohort (47%) and the population as a whole (64%). If we get people registered, we can get them to the polls.
Especially in a year when the political theater is so engaging that it gets billed over hockey, basketball, and half-price tequila.