There is a reason Urban Outfitters recently sold shirts bearing the slogan “Voting is For Old People.” They knew they could sell them. In 1972 when young people were first given the right to vote in presidential elections, roughly half of them did. Since then the number of voters ages 18 to 24 has steadily declined, peaking briefly to 42% in 1992 before continuing its decline to an all-time low of 3 percent in 2000.
But intensive voter-registration drives spurred by the sensitivity of this year’s presidential election may change that trend. Politically inclined individuals everywhere are attempting to get this normally apathetic group to the polls, some with more creative strategies than others.
For generations sex has been used a marketing tool for markets ranging from the obvious (such as make-up) to the slightly more obscure (like McDonalds ads featuring the pictures of sculpturesque Olympic athletes who apparently got those bodies by eating their fair share of Big Macs). November’s Election is receiving a sexy makeover thanks to the imaginative folks at Votergasm.org.
The website, which is helmed by a group of recent Columbia and Harvard graduates, is seeking to increase youth voting turnout utilizing sex as the bait. “Voting is hot,” said Votergasm.org director and spokeswoman Michelle Collins. “And young voters are hot for each other. Votergasm.org is a way to channel our generation’s patriotism into sex, and vice versa. Election Day should be an erotic national youth festival, an orgy of democracy and civic participation.”
On the website, visitors can register to vote, host or locate election-night Votergasm parties, and sign the Votergasm Pledge to have sex with (and only with) fellow voters. The site also features steamy instructional pictorials of young, scantily clad male and female voters demonstrating civic actions such as requesting an absentee ballot, and a Hot-or-Not-style game in which visitors judge the political orientation of people who upload their photos to the site.
“Many people think of politics as dirty, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Politics can be clean, invigorating, and beautiful – like sex,” Collins continued. “When we looked at the statistics from the 2000 elections, we were shocked. Millions of young people didn’t vote… Never again.”
However, sex isn’t the only way young people are being lured into the voter registration booths.
Russell Simmons, creator of Def Jam Records and Benjamin Chavis, former head of the NAACP cofounded the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN). This year the HSAN launched Hip-Hop Team Vote, a voter-registration initiative. Luring young hip-hop fans with headliners like Eminem, Jay-Z, Nas and P. Diddy, HSAN has been promoting a political agenda that supports drug-law reform, opposes education cuts and encourages community development programs.
When asked how he proposed to increase young-voter turnout this year, Simmons explained, “”It has to be in style to get people to show up.” At an August Hip-Hop summit in Philadelphia sponsored by HSAN, the cost of admission was registering to vote, and registered voters had to bring a friend who was not registered. The featured panel discussions with LL Cool J, Wyclef Jean and other rappers were stylish enough to net an estimated 11,000 newly registered voters.
Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell credited the full-force campaign run by the summit as being responsible for 88,000 new Democrats and 9,000 new Republicans in just a matter of weeks. Penny Lee, a spokesperson from the Governor’s office called those numbers “unprecedented.”
But rappers and their fans aren’t the only demographic getting political this election. In fact, it’s beginning to look like every faction of pop-culture is getting involved. In Smackdown Your Vote, the wrestling federation World Wrestling Entertainment is trying to persuade its fans to take voting as seriously as they take wrestling.
In addition, the 14-year-old Rock the Vote campaign is still in full force this year, presenting a forum on CNN during the Democratic National Convention, which allowed 18-34 year olds to grill candidates on issues like job creation and the Patriot Act. Not everyone is remaining non-partisan though. PunkVoter, a voter-registration website started by NOFX’s Mike Burnett, is decidedly anti-Bush. The website’s mission is “to expose the Bush administration and unite punks to stand against their inane policies.”
While the PunkVoter crowd is working on a much smaller budget than some of the other groups, they’ve still managed to present a large-scale effort. That effort includes the website and a CD compilation entitled, “Rock Against Bush,” featuring such hot sellers as Green Day, Sum 41, and Anti-Flag, all of whom are also touring the country with registration booths set up at their shows.
Still, judging from the past failures of organizations like Rock the Vote to curb the decline of young voters, all these efforts may only have a marginal effect on the polls come November 2. The outcome of the vote might just depend on what happens in the Middle East between then and now.
On the other hand, maybe this time the young vote will count.