Monday, August 2, 2010

Monday Morning Reality Check: Why Most likely Voters Won’t Vote For You

T-minus 26 days until West Virginia holds its Very Special Primary. Candidates are most likely targeting “most likely” voters, meaning West Virginia residents who have voted in the past two midterm elections. They’ve most likely polled and know the issues and messages that work with this group, and that’s what they’re banking on. Good strategy, right? You’re most likely wrong.

“Most likely” voters just may not be the “most likely” people to punch the hole next to your name on the ballot. Why not? What can you, as a candidate, do to improve the quality of life for someone’s grandmother in the nursing home? How much can your efforts improve our statewide and/or national economy that my 87 year-old Grandpa will live to see? Why would my parents vote for you if you’re most likely going to continue increasing our national debt which my generation, and those after me, will be paying off? What proactive approach are you taking to the future of coal and energy in West Virginia so tomorrow’s generations of mountain state residents have good paying jobs?

Reality check: You, most likely, cannot do anything to significantly improve the quality of life for my grandparents, and probably not my parents. Campaigning to them via :60 TV spots is great, sending direct mail to my Uncle Ed is wonderful, my Dad will listen to your radio spot while he’s busy wiring a house, but in the end, you’re missing the number one group you need to be targeting: my generation.

“Have you heard of [Candidate X?] What do you think about him/her?” are the words my Grandpa asks me every election cycle. If I wasn’t so into politics, I wouldn’t know who at least 75% of the candidates running for office are. Why not? Because candidates and campaigns seem to forget that my generation exists. No, we typically don’t vote, but that’s only because you candidates most likely forgot to engage us. How can I know who you are unless you target campaign efforts to where I am most often? And where is that you might ask? Online.

My grandparents and parents are not selfish people, they’re pragmatic, realistic, forward-thinking individuals who are concerned about the well-being of those they will one day leave behind. They want to cast their vote for someone who will strive to build a more solid foundation for my generation and those after mine. So when I don’t know who you are or why you’re running for office, my Grandpa most likely won’t vote for you.

You most likely don’t understand us, and we most likely won’t have the same perspective, the same needs, or even the same values as so-called most likely voters, but believe me, my generation would love to be more involved in local, statewide, and national politics. And we’re getting more involved, with or without you.

According to Ryan White and T.J. Meadows, “Generation Charleston, a group whose mission is to attract and retain young talent in the Charleston area, firmly believes that the involvement of young leaders in politics is integral to the future success of our state and nation. ...Young leaders can and will bring new energy to a political landscape that has become increasingly partisan and can help create an environment of cooperation that seems to be rarer with each issue being discussed,” (read more in @wvgazette:

I thought a certain soon-to-be Senator understood this when he talked about organizing the “Governor’s Council of Young Professionals” in his 2010 State of the State speech, ( It seems older generations of politicians like to talk about involving the youth and setting the stage for a solid tomorrow, but when you don’t take time to ask us what we want, why we want it, and how we would go about getting it, your words will soon fall on deaf ears. And when our grandparents and parents ask us what we think, we “most likely” won’t know you and all three generations will be “most likely” to vote for someone else.


  1. A very excellent point made in this post. Our President won important early primary elections in large measure because of his ability to tap into the "on-line" constituency. A politician in West Virginia that is able to effectively use an on-line outreach program will "come from nowhere" to upset an old-line politician in an election in the next few years.

  2. I believe the online access to social networking, etc. will only take a candidate so far. Does anyone really believe President Obama won because he has a facebook? Most Americans were tired of eight years of Republican administration.

    West Virginians historically have had an average age higher than most states. If memory serves me correctly, we were the first state to have a death rate higher than the birth rate. Aging populations do not base their votes on social media primarily.

    If they use any forum, it would be from the candidate's own website or from other sites such as or

    Young leaders can bring much to this state, but they don't reach office for many reasons. You've pointed out one already -- young people have a poor turnout at the polls.

    This generation still has a strong sense of apathy as well. They believe they can't make a difference.

    We also tend to believe, as young adults, that the world should cater to us. Instead of demanding as such, perhaps we should be raising our level of intellect and involvement. Instead of whining about us being asked, we need to start telling those in power what we want or how we feel about policy.

    People today are tricked into thinking we are divided by various differences -- socioeconomic class, race, religion, etc.

  3. What a wonderful commentary. And the truth is, the "regulars" are probably pretty established in their habits. I always know who my mom's going to vote for, and I always know who my grandma's going to vote for (the furthest left guy on the ballot, pretty odd for a 92 year old!).

    On the other hand, I have not established "voting habits"--despite being a recovering lobbyist--I couldn't ever say for sure who I'd vote for until within a few days of the election. But use of social media or even effective use of more traditional media does speak volumes to me because like hell I've got the time to watch TV and read a hardcopy of a newspaper more than a few minutes each day.

    Although the democratic deficit, as we referred to it in my college poli sci courses, is no longer just a problem for the current generation, it's infecting the older generation, too. Most democratic countries require all citizens to vote, it's the law, so these issues aren't quite as pervasive. But in the US and Canada too, it's a choice. And many have decided their votes just don't matter.

    Although putting the midterm on a Saturday is a bit of a pain. We'll be lucky to see a 20% turnout.