X-Box (and Cell Phone) Nation: Election Rests In Digital Hands

The Democratic convention gets started tonight and in the constant quest for the unconventional technological means of getting out the youth vote, the X-Box is today’s “in” device.By itself, this may not be a big deal.

The Democratic convention gets started tonight and in the constant quest for the unconventional technological means of getting out the youth vote, the X-Box is today’s “in” device. By itself, this may not be a big deal. There are about 12 million X-Box members around the world. Microsoft didn’t break out the U.S. total, when announcing its plan in conjunction with Rock the Vote to let users of its entertainment machine to register to vote in this November’s presidential election. Those are the only ones who count. This is the segment of the population that is most likely to use technical means to get out the vote. Just imagine how much registration would be jumpstarted if every cell phone could be used to register? It’s been obvious for a while that you’re only going to reach the under-30 set by capturing them on their cell phones. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, of all outfits, 34.5 percent of people aged 25-29 live in households with only wireless phones. Among those aged 18-24, it’s 31%. The stakes are high. If you judge by the past two national elections, young voters only turn out in big numbers if they see a reason. Rock The Vote, for instance, likes to point out that turnout among 18-29 year olds jumped 9 percent to 49 percent, in 2004 compared to the 2000 presidential elections. This is great, of course. But in 2006, participation fell way off, if you believe U.S. Census Bureau statistics. Where 41.9% of 18-24 year olds and 46.9% of 25-34 year olds reported voting in the 2004 presidential elections, only 22.1% and 33.5% reported voting in the mid-term elections. Other age groups were much more engaged. In fact, those twice as old generally were twice as involved. But you can see why Barack Obama, even if the emailing of his VP choice got undermined by the reporting first by CNN of the Joe Biden choice, emphasizes electronic fund-raising and organizing so much more than John McCain, who is just getting acquainted with computing. If twittering, texting, cell phone calling and X-Box voter registration drives pay off, the difference in this election could well be decisive. There are about 28 million Americans between the ages of 18-24 and about 39 million between 25 and 34. If the percentage of each that actually votes gets pushed up to 50% and 55%, respectively, that’s 35.5 million young voters casting ballots. If they see no reason to get worked up, to get registered and ultimately to vote, then you’re talking only about 19.1 million votes, based on the 2006 participation rate. The reality will be somewhere in between. The objective truth: if you can get 16 million more people under 35 out to vote, that is likely to be decisive.

It’s certainly where the most potential for swinging this election lies. And, the X-Box aside, you have to believe that this election quite literally sits in the hands of the under-35 set. Get youth itself to use its wealth of iPhones, Blackberries, cell phones, laptops and video game boxes to get out the vote. If they get their thumbs tapping keypads and their fingers tapping keyboards, they will decide who sits in the White House next year, no matter what pollsters think they see, right up to November 4. After all in general, pollsters can’t easily reach out to cell phone users and even poll them.