Prediction: In 2014, youth turnout will exceed expectations. Granted, that statement has a certain “you don’t sweat much for a fat person” quality. Yet facing tough obstacles, Democrats need all the votes they can get. A close look reveals young voters may provide some of them.

To get it out of the way, let’s concede that young voters are generally oblivious. For example, at the height of the 2009 Tea Party Summer of Hate, a few friends of mine confessed unfamiliarity with the group (although they did enjoy a certain anatomical pun). But contrary to middle aged myth, millennials have a latent passion for ideals. The day before President Obama visited UNC, campus was gripped by an electricity of anticipation. It wasn’t due to hero worship.

Their noble impulses can be reawakened. When higher ed cuts–which are planned–get students’ attention, Democrats have an opportunity to inform them of all the other outrages. And Republicans violated (or tried to) all of the young’s dearest concerns. Endangering the planet? Check. Encroaching on sexual freedom? Check. Disrespecting LGBT people? Like you wouldn’t believe.

That said, information alone won’t rouse them. Thomas is right that Democrats must court the youth vote online. The outreach should target engaged young people, the kind who don’t delete Obama for America emails. When reached, these voters could then serve as emissaries to their less political peers. Voters usually respond more robustly to people they know, and this is especially true of the apathetic.

The “point men” Democrats recruit see their fellow young people everyday, so they have a better capacity to keep the youth vote motivated. They also understand how young people think. So they’ll develop a persuasive message without costly focus groups. A team of grassroots ambassadors would yield greater returns than a thousand Alicia Keys concerts.

Young people may carry Democrats to victory, but only if the party pursues a rational and respectful strategy. In our gerontocratic system, tone deafness is a chronic hazard. Young people are indeed smart enough to see that Stefani Germanotta doesn’t show a party worth taking seriously. Next year, youth turnout can Change–but only if We Believe In it.

 

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