Here’s How We Can Increase Voter Participation In 2018 And Beyond
With Labor Day behind us, we’re in the homestretch of the 2018 election. Millions of Americans will soon cast ballots for candidates in local, state, and federal election races. And while every election is important, this one feels especially unique.
In the past two years, we have seen an uptick in civic enthusiasm that indicates 2018 could be a major year for new voters, millennials, and people of color at the polls. However, if historical trends continue, we could be in for another year of lackluster voter participation. So how do we translate that enthusiasm into people at the polls?
Today, across the country, nearly 150 organizations are teaming up to launch #VoteTogether, a campaign to make voting a more enjoyable, community-driven experience. #VoteTogether is a nonpartisan initiative by Civic Nation that aims to change the culture of voting and increase participation by making election season more celebratory, fun, and inclusive. With backyard BBQs, office potlucks, and block parties, #VoteTogether events are designed to encourage families, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and classmates to come together in celebration of voting and participation in the 2018 elections.
#VoteTogether events are not just fun. We also know they work.
In 2016 and 2017, Civic Nation ran a pilot program with the pioneering researcher and Columbia University political science professor, Donald P. Green, to measure the impact of community celebrations on voter participation. The research found that voter participation increases between one and four percentage points when the local community comes together in a celebration of democracy and civic pride. Additional research shows that making voting about peer-to-peer, neighbor-to-neighbor, and friend-to-friend engagement has a significant and positive impact on participation.
The idea of voting festivals builds on historical references to voting parties in the 18th century. At those festivals, “voters at the polls talked with friends, threw down shots of free whiskey, listened to lively entertainment, and generally had a good time.” In the modern context, we’re ditching the shots and voting restrictions of the 18th century but keeping the idea that voting can be fun and should be social.
The reasons why people don’t vote are varied but the effects on our democracy are significant. Low voter participation rates reflect complex, deeply rooted challenges in the United States and within our communities. And to make it worse, the barriers that keep Americans from voting are only reinforced by not participating in the process. This creates a vicious cycle that erodes our civic fabric.
We see the effects of this play out year after year. According to the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization FairVote, participation in midterm elections generally falls to 40% of the eligible voting population, as compared to 60% during presidential elections. In 2014, turnout among eligible voters was just 36.4% – the lowest overall participation level for midterm elections since World War II. Among African Americans and Hispanics, voter turnout was 40.6% and 27%, respectively. And although 62.2% of students were registered in 2014, just 18 percent made it to the polls.
There are a lot of good solutions to improve participation in the democratic process and showcase the value of civic engagement. However, the truth is that many eligible voters don’t vote because voting isn’t enjoyable. By focusing on celebration and community, we can short circuit the cycle that leads to low participation rates and reinforce the positive social dynamics that encourage voting.
In 2018, with support from a coalition of partners – including MTV’s +1 the Vote campaign – #VoteTogether is organizing thousands of family-friendly celebrations at and near polling locations across the country, during early vote periods and on Election Day. We’re also making it easy for individuals to host their own #VoteTogether events by providing resources including, event planning tips, as well as downloadable, ready-to-print party decorations, invitations, door hangers, and more on our website.
If you’re wondering why #VoteTogether is necessary, it’s simple: our democracy works best when all perspectives are included and all eligible voters cast their ballots. Disconnection and isolation contribute to societal divisions and undermine our sense of community. #VoteTogether is countering these trends by sparking a renewed enthusiasm for the democratic process and bringing people together on Election Day. And we want more people to join us.
When we started this project in the summer of 2016, we had nine celebrations organized by local partners across the nation. In 2017, we expanded to 57 celebrations. This year, we’re ramping way up. Our goal is to have 2,000 #VoteTogether celebrations across the country – at polling places, community centers, and city halls, in backyards and office break rooms, and on college campuses.
We’ve launched with 550 events across the country. Now we need everyone to get involved. So let’s plant the seed for cross-generational, lifelong voting participation by creating a new culture of civic engagement rooted in celebration and fun. Let’s #VoteTogether.