It is election season-one of the most important, significant and exciting in history. America is at war, the economy is in trouble, a woman ran for the first time, a black man secured a major party nomination for the first time, and the list goes on.
It is election season-one of the most important, significant and exciting in history. America is at war, the economy is in trouble, a woman ran for the first time, a black man secured a major party nomination for the first time, and the list goes on. And true now more than ever, no such moment would be complete without efforts geared towards young voters.
Back in 1992, Bill Clinton was battling ol’ Bush 41 for a seat in the White House, and MTV started a new campaign called “Rock the Vote.” Initially geared towards defending the voting rights of students during the New Hampshire primary, it led to a coordinated field and media campaign that helped Clinton on his way to Washington and substantially raised youth turnout for the first time since 1972. A year later, at the peak of Rock the Vote’s performance as an organization, the group helped pass the Motor Voter Law.
Since then, Rock the Vote has become more of a media vehicle and has only competed with P. Diddy’s brief “Vote or Die” initiative in 2004. Despite 1992 success and beyond, however, youth voter turnout declined in 1996 and again in 2000. Michael Connery of The Nation and author of Youth to Power goes on to say that “the vacuum left in youth organizing by the failures of Rock the Vote in part inspired the boom in youth organizing that occurred between 2003 and 2007.”
Rock the Vote is struggling to revitalize itself this election season with some progressive new initiatives. Included among ante-uppers are online voter registration tools, citizen journalism competitions, a “young voter platform,” and a mobile program, complete with text message reminders about when and where to vote. These efforts, along with the circumstances and candidates surrounding this election, have helped 2008 become what some will call the biggest youth turnout in history.
In addition to Rock the Vote efforts, MTV has planned to join siblings VH1, Comedy Central and Spike TV in accepting money for political ads, reversing a course set at its inception in 1981. MTV had refused political advertising as recently as the ‘07-‘08 primary season, even as it heavily promoted its “Choose or Lose” get-out-the-vote effort. The Viacom Networks channel, once known for round-the-clock music videos and now a new home to a host of reality shows, will now air political advertisements, though only from political candidates and party political committees (not third parties).
The MTV decision comes during a heated debate between candidates regarding campaign finance reform. Senator Barack Obama, who initially voiced support for publicly funded elections, has opted out of public money and spending caps in the wake of massive fundraising success. In contrast to what some have called the “Obama Flip-Flop,” Senator John McCain continues to consider accepting public funds and the regulations they entail. The issue is that one candidate may have much more money to spend on youth-directed political ads than the other.
MTV’s announcement of its own change of heart follows a June 22 report in The New York Times that Senator Obama’s campaign wanted to do an MTV ad-buy. When considering the NYT report and fundraising totals, it’s seems clear to whom MTV’s decision gives a push.
Now get out there, voters – “Choose or lose, rock the vote, and vote or die.”