June 27, 2007
In 2004, over 4 million new young voters turned out at the polls on Election Day. By a 10 percent margin, those voters chose John Kerry over President Bush, becoming the only age demographic to choose Democrats over Republicans, a reversal of previous presidential elections in which Democrats and Republicans split the youth vote. In 2006, young voters again picked Democrats by increasing margins, proving that this was a trend, not a fad, a cultural shift in the politics of the Millennial generation.
In part, that shift was driven by the work of hundreds of musicians and a handful of nonprofit organizations which, for over a year leading up to the 2004 election, delivered peer-to-peer, and sometimes issue-oriented, messaging at concerts. Combined, these organizations claim to have registered well over 1 million new voters in 2004 (Rock the Vote alone claims 1.2 million). Just as important, by delivering hard-hitting progressive messages that linked politics to the daily lives of millions of punk, hip-hop, indie rock, and jam band fans, they reached many young people who were traditionally ignored by our electoral system. Together, they politicized live music communities to a degree unseen in decades and helped to reengage a new generation in politics.
Four years later, many of the organizations that helped drive that cultural shift are closing up shop or scaling back just as the Millennial generation is beginning to come into its own. In 2008, 50 million Millennials (those aged 18 to 31) will be eligible to vote. Some studies show Millennials are already rivaling Baby Boomers in size.
When the cultural organizations that helped motivate those millions of Millennials in 2004 are gone, and the infrastructure that supported the political activism of hundreds of artists disappears with them, who will continue to engage these new voters? Who will rock the vote in 2008?
In 2004, at least half a dozen national organizations rocked, punked or rapped the vote–that is, used music communities and subcultures to register, educate and motivate young voters who were not being reached by the political establishment and traditional campaign tactics. Rock the Vote, MoveOn’s Vote for Change tour, P. Diddy’s Citizen Change and Russell Simmons’ Hip-Hop Summit Action Network all cashed in on mainstream celebrities, media hype and massive stadium shows to raise money and register over 1.2 million new voters.