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Insta-Polling Young Voters, State by State

BY Michael Connery | Monday, September 24 2007

Cross-posted at Future Majority.

Our Voice 2008 is a new, nonpartisan youth politics site that is getting ready to soft launch next week with an interesting idea for amplifying the voice of young voters in the political process: snap-polling its users on topical issues and providing its users with the means to break down that data by state for display on websites and social networking profiles.

On signing up for the site, users complete a profile which includes a sliding-scale ranking of the issues that most concern you (there are about 10 issues between which the scales help you divvy up 100 “points”) and rate each of the Presidential candidates. Each month, OV2008 will offer nonpartisan descriptions of various issues (talk about a minefield! How do you describe abortion or health care or any issue in a way that is both useful and unbiased? Solutions have to come from somewhere) and poll their user-base for their opinions on that issue. Users will be able to display this information on their social networking profiles or websites via widgets developed by OV2008, while the organization itself will push the information out to the presidential campaigns in an attempt to influence the debate.

The idea is interesting, but with such an unscientific method of polling, it will need to reach a very large critical mass of users if it is to produce information of any use to the campaigns, media, or even local organizers. Unfortunately, the project is running very much under the radar at the moment, and the first major data collection period is almost up (October 1st). There’s no way to know from the site how many people have created profiles, though with a respectable if insufficient 1,000 friends on Facebook and a paltry 16 friends on MySpace, the project does not appear to have anything close to critical mass, which I place (at minimum) around a few thousand participants in each of the 50 states (or at least the first 5 or 6 primary states). Without that critical mass, it’s unclear to me how this becomes more useful to campaigns, media outlets, or nonprifits like Rock the Vote than the internal polls they already produce.

I spoke with Ryan Comfort, the founder of Our Voice 2008, about these issues and Comfort acknowledged that attaining critical mass is the key, and pointed out that they are only in the initial stages of their operation, with the website barely a few weeks old. He and a team of students at the University of Pennsylvania (Comfort is a recent Wharton graduate) are currently working on creating a campus outreach plan. Once that plan is complete, Our Voice 2008 will begin to recruit volunteers at universities across the country whose job it will be to build support for the organization among students.

Even if Our Voice 2008 never reaches the critical mass to become a viable project (the most likely outcome, I think), it remains a solid idea that a more established organization might be able to execute. The idea of insta-polling a large and geographically group of young voters is not radically different from what MySpace and MTV are set to do during their candidate dialogues. The technology is already out there. An organization like Rock the Vote just might have a big enough brand to pull create a critical mass of users, and enough clout within the political community to actually get the campaigns to pay attention to the results.

But then again, since merging with Young Voter Strategies, Rock the Vote already has its own polling and research arm, so the question becomes, is there value added in snap polling in addition to the more methodical polling the organization already employs? I think yes. I’m 29 years old, and never in my life (even when I had a landline) have I been polled. I think a lot of young voters might jump at the chance to participate in such a polling process provided they could:

  • Participate remotely and on their own schedule via a social networking widget.
  • They knew that the organization conducting the polls was working in the interests of young voters.
  • They knew that the organization was committed to pushing the results to the media and the political campaigns.
  • They saw that commitment through increased/changed coverage and campaign messaging.

If such a project could operate like the Rock the Vote voter registration widget, and allow organizations to create their own versions and maintain user data, this could be a very interesting development. It remains to be seen of OV2008 can pull it off, or if another organization is willing to pick up on it.

Mike Connery blogs about youth politics at Future Majority.