Democrats Seek Young Voters, and the Memes That Move Them

Shawn Thew/EPA, via Shutterstock

Lucas Carrol, a freshman at Boston College, was sitting on his bed in his dorm room, bored on a Sunday, when he decided to create an unofficial “Pete Buttigieg for President” Facebook page. It was four days after the South Bend mayor announced his exploratory committee in late January.

“I wanted to prove I could build a successful digital outreach campaign and show the importance of social media grass roots in elections,” Mr. Carrol, 18, said.

The page now reaches as many as a million people a week, has collected 19,000 likes and has brought 1,000 donors to Mr. Buttigieg’s campaign through a customized fund-raising link.

Mr. Carrol’s effort isn’t a surprising one. Dating back at least to the sit-ins against segregation in Greensboro, N.C., in 1960 and subsequent activism by young people in the 1960s, youth-led movements have often helped define political moments.

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Reflecting the emphasis being put on young voters in the 2020 race, five Democratic presidential candidates are scheduled to answer questions from students and young voters in CNN town hall-style events Monday night beginning at 7 p.m. from Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire.

The Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016 and a focus on young voters in the 2018 midterm elections have put increasing emphasis on them as an important demographic, particularly for Democrats. Nearly 60 percent of people 18 to 24 say they’re Democrats, while just a third say they’re Republicans, according to an analysis of Pew Research Center data over the last year.

But it remains to be seen whether young voters will turn out on a large scale. Even with the youthful support for Mr. Sanders in 2016, a study by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement found that Mr. Sanders “did not inspire a surge in turnout from young Democrats.” Less than 20 percent of young voters turned out in primaries in Nevada, Iowa and New Hampshire, according to exit polling by Edison Research.

Still, Democrats see enormous potential.

“Young voters are listed as low-propensity voters,” said Louis Elrod, president of the Young Democrats of America, the youth arm of the Democratic Party. He explained that because many young people don’t donate to campaigns, or don’t have a voting record yet, campaigns usually don’t take the time to talk to them like they would other voters. “You hear this bias all the time that young people are apathetic. We’re not apathetic.”

In the last four years, young people have called for big structural economic and social changes by forming organizations such as March for Our Lives, United We Dream and the Sunrise Movement. The ferment is a reaction both to the Trump administration and to legislative decisions of older generations who won’t bear the full brunt of their decisions on issues like climate change and student debt.

“This election feels like a question of our generation…

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