Voting

VOTING….Martha Paskoff writes in The American Prospect today about the astounding success of American Idol. Why, she asks, are young viewers willing to vote in huge numbers for their favorite singers, but unwilling to vote in regular elections?

Because a single vote doesn’t make a difference? Nah, Florida put the lie to that, and besides, the voting on Idol was very close. Because of negative campaigning? Nah, the nastier Simon Cowell got, the better the show did. Because it’s too hard to vote? Hmmm, to vote on American Idol you only had to pick up your phone. Maybe that’s it.

Nah, that’s not it either. Maybe it’s this:

Finally, American Idol self-consciously marketed itself to young Americans, and political candidates need to begin doing the same. This doesn’t mean presidential aspirants have to speak on glitzy stages, put blond highlights in their hair or employ navel-baring campaign workers. But it does mean they need to address issues that are important to young Americans, such as reducing student debt, making home ownership more accessible and promoting tax policies that will benefit those just entering the workforce.

That’s closer to the truth, but still not quite there. I think a lot of young people don’t vote because they simply don’t believe that it matters who wins the election. Neither candidate is likely to produce the results they talk about, so why bother?

Voting on American Idol, on the other hand, produces a very clear result: the person you think is a better singer wins. And they have a single available in the music stores within a week.

A candidate who want to increase support among young voters, then, has to do two things. First, talk about things they care about. Second, and more important, convince them that they can actually deliver. That part is much harder, I think.

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