Posted April 4th 2012 at 9:50 am by
in Media Mindfulness

Idea: Incentive Based Voting for Young People

As I walked through 125th Street in Harlem last December — when the new Jordans were released — I saw a line of young people that stretched from the store stretched from the Apollo to 127th and 7th Ave. As I walked by and saw them, all happy and ready to spend $200 for a pair of sneakers, I pondered to myself: How many of these young people are registered to vote?  I thought about Nike and the other companies that attract the interests of today’s youth. Then it dawned on me — what if these companies were brought together to promote civic engagement? What if registering to vote got you 10% off your next purchase of Nike shoes , or showing up to vote got you on the short list for the next big video game release?

Chillin in my Bordeaux

Chillin in my Bordeaux by deauxboy22 on Flickr.

It’s no secret that young people don’t turn out to vote. Some see this as an obvious sign of young people’s lack of interest in politics. But young people are engaging in other civic activities at a higher rate than previous generations. For example, 36% have volunteered within the last year; and 30% have boycotted a product because of the conditions under which it was made or the values of the company that made the product. Yet, there’s a cynicism about the value of participating in the political process. A Harvard Institute of Politics poll in 2008 found that 81% of people from the ages of 18-24 agreed with the statement that community service is effective “as a way of solving important issues facing your community.” Only 63% said the same about political participation.

Young voters may not feel that they have much say in the political process, or see the connection between voting and the impact of policy. It doesn’t mean they don’t care about policy — think about the furor over net neutrality, the protests over student loan debt — but not all see how getting out and voting for city council or state congress affects the issues they read in the news.

By gathering a cohort of businesses that are willing to offer incentives to young people willing to become more civically engaged and vote, the program could both encourage higher levels of participation and drive consumers towards products and services.  For instance, Apple could offer a free download to anyone who attends a program at the local board of elections learning about voting and the process to vote. Sports teams and celebrities could throw some star power behind this: imagine a voter drive where you could also get an autograph after registering to vote.

Young people increasingly care about responsible business models and the concept of ‘doing good’ through enterprise.  Companies, in response, want to create loyalty and promote an image that in congruent with young consumers’ values and choices. The participatory nature of this program offers ‘proof’ that companies are giving back in order to teach and promote civic engagement, and will likely be enthusiastically received by young shoppers.

There is also opportunity to incorporate smart technology and social media. What if you could download an app to learn more about which offers coordinated with which civic activities? You could even collect points for better deals with multiple civic engagement activities. It could automatically update your Facebook and tweet your participation. A Facebook application to track your points could spur competition — which of your friends has earned the most? — and score big for businesses as they get essentially free advertising for the participating products and services they are contributing.

This idea is non-partisan. Participants don’t have to register with either party or reveal whom they voted for, just that they voted. Although many are quick to call young voters Democrats — and many of them are — this may be more of a response to the Democratic party’s attention (although minimal) to young voters. Young voters overwhelming describe themselves as ‘moderate’ and many are comfortable switching party lines on various issues.

Critics may scoff at the suggestion that we need to incentivize people to do something they “ought to be doing for themselves,” but in a fast-paced and information-saturated world, good civic initiatives need to be innovate to compete. It helps everyone, not just the youth. Democracy functions best when there are many voices being expressed. Finally, it is natural to reward positive behavior in the young — after all, as children in elementary school, didn’t we get gold stars for good behavior?

Post by Marvin Bing and Cassady Fendlay.

10 responses to “Idea: Incentive Based Voting for Young People”

  1. Smedette says:

    As much as I would love to see more people voting, young and old alike, I believe offering any type of incentive to vote (or not vote) is illegal (18 USC 597).

  2. Marvin Bing jr. says:

    Innovation in spurring civic activism should be allowed. its about participating in the process- its not bribery. its not telling anyone who to vote for or against. its saying we will help you if you learn and participate in democracy. its unfortunate it has to come to this, but the traditional ways are getting old fast. Our generation needs an incubator – not someone preaching the old civil rights song of old- even thought its a great historical fact or progression- its not working anymore. Fashion, Technology, music and Video Games are what interest our young people. The law is based on the old Tammany Hall idea where people were forced to vote and captains were rewarded for getting people to vote a certain way. That’s NOT what this is TALKING about!

  3. Marvin Bing jr. says:

    I already know this isn’t vote buying because of the way we’d put it together. I wonder if the law would have to be changed at all, because how is this (totally non-partisan effort) any different than spending money on non-partisan voter reg or GOTV efforts. Instead of raising money, we’d be raising gifts-in-kind, but we’d essentially be doing the same thing as non-partisan reg and GOTV efforts. Those aren’t “vote buying” even if people are paid to register folks or door-knock, right? I feel like someone who knows law could defend it.

  4. Malia Lazu says:

    If we had business bow out of buying our democracy they would be offering us an authentic reason to vote and save our democracy at the same time. $20 off of nikes are not going to create critical citizens, an honest democracy would. I’d like to incentivize kids to get good grades… but I would like to fix our democracy.

  5. Marvin Bing jr. says:

    So, let me further make my point. Do you think an 18 years old who lives ( Ill use your neck of the woods) in Mattapan understands or even cares about the complexity of corporate Money in elections? Let me further my point; Do you think an 19 year old who just got out of a juvenile justice facility for armed robbery cares about corporate money in elections? What do “they” not “us” care about- Video Games, Fashion, Technology: hence the idea that “meet them where they are” approach instead of the same old ” I know whats best for them” approach. I don’t think this insinuates anything about not caring about grades, and education – I do think it talks about outside of the “box” thinking on how to “reach” our young people.

  6. Kristen Guy says:

    Growing up in a city where most of the young African-American young people were more interested in fashion, and video games- I think this approach is refreshing. I don’t think the writer is talking about bribing young people for financial gain in the name of registering to vote. It’s good to see people thinking about different non traditional ways to approach today’s young people especially in urban corners in our country. I don’t know if anyone has been paying attention to voter registration numbers since 2005- but they are going down amongst the demographic I think the writer is talking about. I don’t see how this perpetuates that he is not interested in young people educational achievement – I think he is talking about grasping their attention using their own interests and teaching from within that realm. I love the idea and I would volunteer to promote this, if it materializes.

  7. Joveline says:

    Regardless if this idea is illegal or not, I applaud the writer for progressively thinking of solutions that are outside of the box. While reading this article, my first thought was not if this idea was illegal or bribery. My initial thought was, a new refreshing way to encourage young Americans to participate in the political process. If more ideas pertaining to the Democratic process could be encouraged and progressively analyzed, the nation would be a better place. Nice Article.

  8. How about an incentive that goes to the voter’s community rather than to the individual? Voting could include an option to vote for sponsorship that goes to local projects of interest to young voters. More votes would mean more sponsorship and sponsors would compete to support projects of interest to young people.

  9. James says:

    We’ve reached the stage where too many people think that voting makes no difference. Whoever you vote for, things go on much as before. I like the idea they have in Switzerland, where the people decide major issues in referendums. That’s real democracy and I think we could learn from it.

  10. Matthew Milan says:

    I agree entirely with James. Referendums are a good thing. People can then make decisions on specific issues. After choosing the politicians we can only hope that they will fulfill their election promises. As we all know promises are often the only thing which politicians can guarantee for us.