Monthly Archives: May 2009

OFA: Harnessing Obama’s grassroots network in Massachusetts

A couple of weeks ago (on May 16), Organizing for America [OFA], the grassroots network that was called Obama for America, had an organizing meeting in Massachusetts that drew over 400 attendees.  [I've written earlier about the challenge and promise of OFA, the 13 million person network from the campaign, that is unprecedented and the question of whether they will be field troops for the Obama agenda or enabled to have their own input into policy.]

Marshall Ganz provided a historical context for OFA.  He noted that social change in our history is not a constant, it is episodic: “”Change is slow except when it’s fast. We’re in a fast movement now so let’s not lose it.”  This is the first time, Ganz noted, that a social movement gave birth during a political campaign.  Successful social movements have to act national but be locally rooted, and to translate national action into local change. Ganz believes that more civic capital has been created through this campaign than ever created through our nation’s history; we have to be creative about using this civic capital.  We need to make sure that it is not a one-way arrangement.

The theme of OFA members wanting input on policy came up at the OFA-MA event, both in questioning of Mitch Stewart (national director of OFA) and in informal discussions throughout the day. Mitch Stewart noted that OFA’s prime agenda was “to support the President’s agenda.”  During Q&A a woman  shouted out “We want input in that agenda!” to large applause.  Stewart tried to siphon the OFA interest in policy by encouraging people to express their input on  whitehouse.gov or by communicating with their members of Congress.  He noted that he was not a policy expert and OFA was not a policy organization.  But it is clear that the audience wasn’t comfortable with that resolution.

A number of speakers highlighted a theme that I have discussed earlier about the importance of marrying technology with “social capital” to have optimal effect. Ethan Winn (software developer) summarized it as  “organizing practices apply online” and commented that once you build the trust through F2F encounters, you can give people responsibilities.)  Marshall Ganz, Harvard lecturer, former community organizer and train-the-trainer for the Obama grassroots effort, in response to a question about how to reach low-income people through technology, replied: “It’s important to distinguish between carpenters and tools. The best tools in the world don’t build a house. The campaign made the tools and equipped people to use the tools. The Dean campaign was successful in using technology to fund raise but the Meetups were not successful — no one knew what to do. The Obama campaign did that part well. People were hungry for tools to work with one another successfully. The technology AND the leadership together were what made the campaign successful. Also, the use of YouTube to enable people to tell their stories was extraordinary. That tool has just begun to realize its potential.”  And Sarah Compton (field organizer in MA for Obama) observed:  “I hope that technology never replaces face-to-face contact. When canvassing to NH, we tried to have a carpool in every town. Those carpools were also meetings and got people engaged. A proof that that was more successful in some ways than technology, the national campaign sent out a blast email about Drive for Change, but we got thousands more people to canvass through word of mouth.”

Here is a thoughtful post on the OFA-MA meeting by “Bottom Up Change”.

Here is video of “Grassroots Organizing: Harnessing the Obama Movement” [panel featuring Sarah Compton, Marshall Ganz, Juan Leyton (director of Neighbor to Neighbor), Ethan Winn and Alan Khazei (BeTheChangeInc.org and co-founder of City Year)

OFA-MA has many other resources from the recent meeting including a live-blogging account of the day.

Interesting “Us Now” film on intersection of technology and community

“Us Now” is a provocative, but bit breathy, film on the connection between technology and community, and glosses lightly over some of the challenges of building community over the Internet. Nonetheless, it is still an interesting watch.  The examples are heavily  UK-based, perhaps because there has been more innovation in the tech-community space on that side of the Atlantic.

The film has a number of talking heads (including Clay Shirky) and highlights some interesting experiments in building community over the web, such as:

  • The School of Everything: a UK website where would-be teachers on any topic can meet locals who want to learn.  It’s like a virtual Center for Adult Education.
  • Ebbsfleet United Football Club: a UK soccer club teach where 30,000 fans “own” the team and decide on what players should start various games and on various policies for the club.  [The film shows them advancing to and winning the finals at Wembley.]
  • Couchsurfing: a website where travelers can find someone in another town who is willing to let them sleep on a couch (or maybe an extra bed).
  • Wikipedia:  known to almost everyone, but a demonstration that millions of volunteers can create something arguably as strong as a commercial encyclopedia, and certainly more vibrant and up-to-date.
  • Mumsnet: an Internet-based community of moms where they exchange advice, concerns, and sometimes friendship.
  • Linux: open-source software that is generally less bug-ridden, produced faster and better performing than commercial software like Microsoft.  And the software is all written by thousands of volunteers over the Internet.
  • Zopa: like an ebay bank, Zopa enables individual-to-individual loans.  Individuals note what their loans are for, like “funding driving lessons” or “buying a cow.”  Those wishing to lend can bid on what interest rate they’ll charge. And a lender can wind up getting funding from scores or hundreds of individual funders for a project.
  • Slice The Pie: Musicians can upload their tracks and have them rated by “slice the pie” participants.  The top rated bands get showcased and the best get 15,000 pounds to make a record from the participating individuals, who share in the record’s proceeds.
  • Governance:  examples range from a participatory budgeting experience in Morcambe, to TheyWorkForYou.com, to The Point, to the Canadian Green Party developing their platform online through a collaborative wiki.
  • Directionless:  a number where cellphone users can call in the UK and get hooked up with a volunteer who is physically proximate who can answer their questions (where is a nearby ATM?  What bars are open late?  etc.)

The film raises important points about the potential of the internet: in increasing transparency and participation, in “disintermediating” (putting more individuals on the front-lines of decision making), in its ability to reach great scale through organizations with a small number of employees, in how it might change our attitudes towards trust, or our willingness to contribute to the gift economy (where we ultimately can gain a lot by giving a little), and in how the Internet is spreading an expectation of participation which may be irreversible, regardless of whether this typically leads to better outcomes.

See “Us Now”.

Individual clips here.

Building civil society on a foundation of sand

(Flickr Photo by ArmyMil)

(Flickr Photo by ArmyMil)

Donald Eberly’s new book “Liberate and Leave” has a thoughtful insider’s account of the challenges that the Bush Administration faced in trying to rebuild civil society in Iraq in the first two years following the ouster of Saddam Hussein.  Don was positioned in the Ministry of Youth and Sport (in the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, or later the Coalition Provisional Authority).  One would think that Ministry of Youth and Sport would be an apolitical spot, but this was a department that had been ruled with an iron grip by Saddam’s brother Uday Hussein before the Hussein regime was toppled.  Eberly writes:

“Ralph Waldo Emerson said that every institution is the lengthened shadow of a man. Uday Hussein’s grotesque shadow had lengthened across the nation and even lingered across the very job I was given.  I felt like I caught sight of his very shadow slinking away out the back door as I walked in the front.  I remain haunted by much of what I saw (personally as well as through eyewitnesses and official reports).”  [Eberly recounts later in the  book much of the terror perpetrated by Uday.]

The book gives one an account of life on the ground in Iraq during “Phase IV” that was about winning the “hearts and minds of Iraqis” through humanitarian assistance, reconstruction, and civil administration until the Iraqis could assume responsibility.  Eberly notes that the media tagged this effort a failure, but says that few note how extraordinarily difficult this phase was . One colleague analogized it to  “assembling a vehicle while driving.” There was so little to build on, and although the mantra was a light touch, Colin Powell, talking about Iraqi organizations, noted  “you break it, you own it”  (i.e., are responsible for fixing it). Eberly doesn’t discuss how little central planning went into this Phase initially among central war planners in the US, but he does highlight the key divisions and distrust between the State Department and the Department of Defense in the rebuilding of civil society.

Flickr photo of Boots of Iraqi casualties-by SoundFromWayOut

Flickr photo of Boots of Iraqi casualties-by SoundFromWayOut

Eberly’s efforts focused partially on reorganizing the Iraqi Olympic sports teams, from a place of torture for enemies of Uday, into a legitimate and well-respected enterprise.  (It had the support of Paul Bremer who “was himself an accomplished athlete.”)  They had to spend months holding new elections for the Olympic Committee since the old one had been a front and “tangled with corruption and abuse.”

Eberly highlights a central challenge: “We could use our power to eliminate people, but we could not use that same power to dictate who would replace them…We claimed the right to remove past sports officials, even though, under the IOC, sports are supposed to be independent of government.  However, we could not simply and arbitrarily put new people in place.”  How could they insure that new crooks did not get themselves re-elected?

They “assembled and circulated a list of respected Iraqis” to oversee this process, to give it a sense of legitimacy.  Eberly notes that the “entire episode proved to be a remarkable early experiment in democracy for Iraq.”    The book details the challenges to get even one woman on the committee, the challenges regarding the ethnic balance on the committee, and the threats to the legitimacy of the enterprise thrown up by Kurds.

It makes you realize just how much we take for granted in civic engagement efforts in the U.S. (from infrastructure to build upon, to citizen initative, to some sense of social and governmental trust, to the rule of law).  Eberly notes, for example, just how important the effort was to get US donors to contribute 80,000 soccer balls as an effort to build trust of the US-led civic redevelopers.

See also this earlier post on efforts to rebuild civil society in Iraq (“Human Networks in Iraq Trump Technology” and “Tough to Centrally Manufacture Social Capital“).

What leads to happiness?

(Flickr photo by adwriter)

(Flickr photo by adwriter)

The Atlantic Magazine has a very interesting story called “What Makes us Happy?” (June 2009)

The author was granted rare access to a longitudinal surveyof 268 men who entered Harvard College in the late 1930s; Harvard scholars tracked them over the last 8 decades through adolescence, “war, career, marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age.”  [The author suggests that the Harvard scholar who has guided this study (The W.T.  Grant Study) over the last roughly half century, George Vaillant, may have used the study to try to make up for deficiencies in his own childhood, suffered when his father committed suicide.]

“Yet, even as he takes pleasure in poking holes in an innocent idealism, Vaillant says his hopeful temperament is best summed up by the story of a father who on Christmas Eve puts into one son’s stocking a fine gold watch, and into another son’s, a pile of horse manure. The next morning, the first boy comes to his father and says glumly, ‘Dad, I just don’t know what I’ll do with this watch. It’s so fragile. It could break.’  The other boy runs to him and says, ‘Daddy! Daddy! Santa left me a pony, if only I can just find it!’

“The story gets to the heart of Vaillant’s angle on the Grant Study. His central question is not how much or how little trouble these men met, but rather precisely how—and to what effect—they responded to that trouble. His main interpretive lens has been the psychoanalytic metaphor of  ‘adaptations,’ or unconscious responses to pain, conflict, or uncertainty. Formalized by Anna Freud on the basis of her father’s work, adaptations (also called ‘defense mechanisms’) are unconscious thoughts and behaviors that you could say either shape or distort—depending on whether you approve or disapprove—a person’s reality.

“Vaillant explains defenses as the mental equivalent of a basic biological process. When we cut ourselves, for example, our blood clots—a swift and involuntary response that maintains homeostasis. Similarly, when we encounter a challenge large or small—a mother’s death or a broken shoelace—our defenses float us through the emotional swamp. And just as clotting can save us from bleeding to death—or plug a coronary artery and lead to a heart attack—defenses can spell our redemption or ruin. Vaillant’s taxonomy ranks defenses from worst to best, in four categories.

“At the bottom of the pile are the unhealthiest, or psychotic, adaptations—like paranoia, hallucination, or megalomania—which, while they can serve to make reality tolerable for the person employing them, seem crazy to anyone else. One level up are the immature adaptations, which include acting out, passive aggression, hypochondria, projection, and fantasy. These aren’t as isolating as psychotic adaptations, but they impede intimacy. Neurotic defenses are common in ‘normal’ people. These include intellectualization (mutating the primal stuff of life into objects of formal thought); dissociation (intense, often brief, removal from one’s feelings); and repression, which, Vaillant says, can involve “seemingly inexplicable naïveté, memory lapse, or failure to acknowledge input from a selected sense organ.” The healthiest, or mature, adaptations include altruism, humor, anticipation (looking ahead and planning for future discomfort), suppression (a conscious decision to postpone attention to an impulse or conflict, to be addressed in good time), and sublimation (finding outlets for feelings, like putting aggression into sport, or lust into courtship).

Vaillant found in general that people improve at adapting. Toddlers often exhibit psychotic adaptations and older children commonly show immature adaptations, but these disappear as children age.  In the Grant Study, adolescents used immature defenses twice as frequently as mature defenses, but by mid-life the ratio had reversed: they were four times more likely to respond in mature ways.  Vaillant also noticed that altruism and humor grew more prevalent between the ages of 50 and 75.  [It is for these reasons that Vaillant examined the subjects over their life trajectory rather than at a fixed point in time, because the progression or lack of progression in defenses was especially important.]

What were Vaillant’s conclusions?

  • Relationships were the only thing that really matters: “It is social aptitude, not intellectual brilliance or parental social class, that leads to successful aging”, Vaillant said. Aside from an individual’s defenses, relationships at age 47 were the strongest predictor of late-life adjustment.  93 percent of those men who were happy at 65 had a close sibling when younger. Those who didn’t have close siblings found these connections in parents or uncles, or mentors or friends.
  • Vaillant dismisses social determinism. Social ease predicted good psychosocial adjustment in college and early adulthood, but became less significant with time. And shy or anxious kids by age 70 were just as likely to be “happy-well” as outgoing kids by age 70.
  • Besides relationships and mature defenses, the best predictors of thriving (physical and psychological) in senior years were “education, stable marriage, not smoking, not abusing alcohol, some exercise, and healthy weight”. If one had 5+ of these factors at age 50, half were  happy-well by 80 and only 7.5% “sad-sick.” Conversely, no one with with three or fewer of these health factors at age 50, ended up happy-well at age 80, regardless of physical shape at age 50.
  • Cholesterol levels at age 50 did not predict happy-wellness in old age.
  • Being fit in college explained late-life mental health better than late-life physical health.
  • Of the men diagnosed as depressed by age 50, over 70% were dead or chronically ill by 63. Pessimists aged far less well than optimists.

Read the Atlantic article here by Joshua Wolf Shenk “What Makes Us Happy?“.

The Boston Globe also had an interesting recent article also on happiness called “Perfectly Happy:  The New Science of Measuring Happiness Has Transformed Self-Help” (by Drake Bennett, 5/10/09)

See other recent posts on happiness “Happiness is Contagious“, “Do Fat Friends make you fat (and less happy)?”   and “Gallup takes daily pulse of American happiness/Krueger’s interesting happiness research.”

Young Americans dropping out of religion, other American Grace findings by Putnam/Campbell

Saying Grace - Flickr photo by ImCait

Saying Grace - Flickr photo by ImCait

Robert D. Putnam (Harvard) and David Campbell (Notre Dame) recently previewed selected themes from their forthcoming book American Grace at the May 2009 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that draws a select group of the leading journalists on religion in America.

As Michael Gerson, ex-speechwriter to President George Bush and one of the Pew Forum attendees, noted in his opening paragraph in a recent nationally syndicated and well-nuanced op-ed in the Washington Post:

“There is a book that everyone will be talking about — when it appears over a year from now. American Grace: How Religion Is Reshaping Our Civic and Political Lives, being written by…Putnam and… Campbell, is already creating a buzz. Putnam, the author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, is the pre-eminent academic expert on American civic life. Campbell is his rising heir. And the book they haven’t yet finished will make just about everyone constructively uncomfortable.”

Putnam and Campbell’s analysis draws on the Faith Matters data they collected — a national, authoritative large-scale, hour-long survey on religion (beliefs, belonging and behavior),  social and political engagement, and religious and political beliefs.  They followed up in a very rare panel survey, reinterviewing the same respondents 6-9 months later to understand the stability of our religion and religious beliefs and to get traction on the issue of causation.  Their research also entails a dozen to fifteen in-depth case studies of religious denominations and churches of many stripes across all parts of the nation.

American Grace finds evidence of unprecedented polarization along religious and political lines, with politics driving changes in religious attendance rather than the reverse!  But amidst the deepening divides, they find a startlingly high level of support on all sides for religious diversity. Most deeply religious Americans reject the idea of a theocratic society run by Christian ayatollahs, while most secular Americans are quite comfortable with the idea of a society infused with religious and moral values.  In short, they argue, America today represents a historical rarity—a society that is both deeply religious and deeply tolerant.  [For example, Americans believe that Americans of other religions can go to heaven, even Christians of non-Christians.  Moreover, 8 of 10 Americans think there are "basic truths in many religions" and 85% of Americans say that religious diversity is good for the country.]

Here are a few of their interesting findings:

  • Young Americans are dropping out of religion at an alarming rate of 5-6 times the historic rate (30-40% have no religion today versus 5-10% a generation ago).  But youth’s religious disaffection is largely due to discomfort with religiosity having been tied to conservative politics.  Putnam and Campbell expect, given the remarkable history of American religious entrepreneurship (from Mormonism to revival meetings to megachurches), that this disaffection from religion is temporary: religious entrepreneurs will rise to offer these young Americans the less politicized religion that they crave.
  • Americans today inherit both religion and congregation far less than their parents and grandparents did and there is remarkable religious fluidity, with between 1/3 and 1/2 of all Americans changing religion from the one they were born into.  [The lower bound does not count a denominational shift like that from Methodists to Calvinists as a switch and only counts a change in religion from Judaism to Buddhism or from Baptist to no-religion.]  And there has been remarkably more entrepreneurial sorting of congregations and congregation shopping with congregants finding a religious home within a denomination that maximally meets their wants and needs (sometimes through stricter “churches”, sometimes through looser ones).
  • There is a remarkable degree of religious bridging in our social networks: approximately 70% of Americans have at least some extended family of a different religion than they are, and this rises to 75% for closest friends, and 85% of Americans who live among at least some neighbors of a different religion.  The interlinkage of these religious networks helps to constrain any message of intolerance that parishioners get from the pulpit.
  • Religious Americans are better citizens than non-religious ones (they give more to secular causes, volunteer more for secular causes, and join more, to mention a few markers of good citizenship). However, it is not their particular theology that predicts good citizenship, but the extent to which they are embedded in a friendship network of religious others (regardless of their religion). [Putnam refers to these religious friends as "powerful, supercharged friends."]  So it is religious social networks, not teachings from the pulpit that are key to them being 3-4 times more generous than the most secular Americans.

American Grace will come out in October 2010.

Michael Gerson’s syndicated Op-Ed “Religion and Our Civic Behavior” is here. (Wash. Post, 5/8/09)

See “Getting to Know You” (Wall Street Journal by Naomi Schaefer Riley, 5/15/09) [which discusses the extent of religious bridging social capital in America, and how having friends of different religions changes ones views toward that religion]

Also, see “Religious People Make Better Citizens” (BeliefNet.org)

Excerpt below from “Religion and Our Civic Behavior” By Michael Gerson:

“[R]eligious affiliation has declined in America since World War II, especially among the young. The change was not gradual or linear. It arrived, according to Putnam, in “one shock and two aftershocks.” The shock came in the 1960s. As conservatives have asserted, the philosophy of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll is an alternative to religious affiliation (though some of the rocking religious would dispute the musical part). Baby boomers were far less religious than their parents at the same age — the probable result, says Putnam, of a “very rapid change in morals and customs.”

“This retreating tide of religion affected nearly every denomination equally — except that it was less severe among evangelicals. While not dramatically increasing their percentage of the American population, evangelicals did increase their percentage among the religious in America. According to Putnam, religious “entrepreneurs” such as Jerry Falwell organized and channeled the conservative religious reaction against the 1960s into the religious right — the first aftershock.

“But this reaction provoked a reaction — the second aftershock. The politicization of religion by the religious right, argues Putnam, caused many young people in the 1990s to turn against religion itself, adopting the attitude: “If this is religion, I’m not interested.” The social views of this younger cohort are not entirely predictable — both the pro-life and the homosexual-rights movement have made gains. But Americans now in their 20s are much more secular than the baby boomers were at the same stage of life. About 30 percent or 35 percent are religiously unaffiliated…. Putnam calls this “a stunning development.” As many liberals suspected, the religious right was not good for religion.

The result of the shock and aftershocks is polarization. The general level of religiosity in America hasn’t changed much over the years. But, as Putnam says, “more people are very religious and many are not at all.” And these beliefs have become “correlated with partisan politics….There are fewer liberals in the pews and fewer unchurched conservatives.”

Republicans no longer the party of community and civic order

mydarlingclementineDavid Brooks in his Op-Ed today describes how Republicans have tilted toward freedom and rights at the expense of community.

He notes Republicans’ love of Western culture and uses as a didactic icon director-great John Ford’s 1946 Western, My Darling Clementine, in which…”Henry Fonda plays Wyatt Earp, the marshal who tamed Tombstone. But the movie isn’t really about the gunfight and the lone bravery of a heroic man. It’s about how decent people build a town. Much of the movie is about how the townsfolk put up a church, hire a teacher, enjoy Shakespeare, get a surgeon and work to improve their manners.

“The movie, in other words, is really about religion, education, science, culture, etiquette and rule of law — the pillars of community. In Ford’s movie, as in real life, the story of Western settlement is the story of community-building. Instead of celebrating untrammeled freedom and the lone pioneer, Ford’s movies dwell affectionately on the social customs that Americans cherish — the gatherings at the local barbershop and the church social, the gossip with the cop and the bartender and the hotel clerk.

“Today, if Republicans had learned the right lessons from…John Ford Westerns, they would not be the party of untrammeled freedom and maximum individual choice. They would once again be the party of community and civic order.

“They would begin every day by reminding themselves of the concrete ways people build orderly neighborhoods, and how those neighborhoods bind a nation. They would ask: What threatens Americans’ efforts to build orderly places to raise their kids? The answers would produce an agenda: the disruption caused by a boom and bust economy; the fragility of the American family; the explosion of public and private debt; the wild swings in energy costs; the fraying of the health care system; the segmentation of society and the way the ladders of social mobility seem to be dissolving.”

The last point dovetails well with consensus that emerged from a recent meeting we convened of some of the leading minds from academia, think tanks and philanthropy about “Increasing Opportunity in an Age of Inequality”.

Read the rest of Brooks’ editorial (“The Long Voyage Home“) about how this has cut off Republicans from the civicly-minded youth and cities (where people realize that they need to cooperate), at the peril of the party.

Brooks concludes: “The Republicans know they need to change but seem almost imprisoned by old themes that no longer resonate. The answer is to be found in devotion to community and order, and in the bonds that built the nation.”

It reminds one of just how deeply the vision of “compassionate conservatism” has faded. In the very early days of the GW  Bush Administration it seemed like there was a there there, but by the end had crumbled into  extremely hollow rhetoric.

No gap in black-white turnout in 2008 elections; youth gap narrowing

pewturnoutgraph-050109The Pew Research Center, in partnership with CIRCLE released a report showing that Asians, Hispanics and Blacks voted in record numbers in the 2008 election, partially spurred by the magnetic candidacy of Barack Obama.  America’s three biggest minority groups — blacks, Hispanics and Asians — comprised almost a quarter of all voters for president in 2008. The increases in minority voting were driven by increases both in numbers of voters and the rate of election turnout.

The second table shows especially large increases in the turnout rate among blacks, and especially black women (not charted), although all non-white groups showed increases.  [Black turnout rose from 60% in 2004 to 65% in 2008, virtually indistinguishable from the voting rates of whites at 66%.]

68.8% of eligible black female voters voted in 2008 (an increase of 5.1 percentage points, from 63.7% in 2004), so that black women were the highest voting of any racial-gender pairing.

pewturnoutgraph2-050109So the interesting takeaway from all this was that although the voting rate in November (despite all the money spent on the campaign and the telegenic candidacy of Obama) was relatively unchanged, but the composition of the voters definitely did change, with whites continuing to disengage and non-whites becoming more active.

The region of the country that saw the most dramatic increases in black voter turnout rate was in the South.

Obviously the $1,000,000 question is whether these behavioral changes are likely to continue beyond the Obama candidacy.  One piece of good news for those interested in seeing non-white voting rates continue to rise, is the behavior of younger Americans, as youth tend to keep the civic habits they demonstrate in their teens and twenties.  And this was also good news, especially for blacks.

CIRCLE’s analysis revealed that the “youth gap” ( younger Americans voting at lower rates than older Americans) continued to shrink in 2008. [For example, voters 18-29 voted at rates 24 percentage points less than Americans 30 and older in 2000 but this narrowed to a gap of 16 percentage points less in 2008.]  But minorities also saw good news in the turnout of various ethnic groups.  Young black adults’ voting rates (ages 18-29) increased by 17% from 49.5% in 2004 to 58.2% in 2008.  For the first time, the turnout among 18-29 year old blacks was higher than any other racial and ethnic group in 2008.  While white youth voting rates were relatively flat from 2004 to 2008, mixed race youth voting at 55%, almost 10 percentage points higher than in 2004 (perhaps motivated by voting for a mixed-race president).  Latino and Asian turnout rates continued to increase, but they significantly trailed turnout rates of whites, mixed race and black youth voters.  (The only youth group to see a decline in voting rates in 2008 was Native American Non-Hispanics.)

So the increases in youth turnout, if they persist could help change the distortion in our democratic process toward politicians being more responsive to the needs of older voters, and if non-white voters continue to increase their voting turnout rates and white turnout rates continue to decline, this may also start to change the voices heard in the democratic process.

See also: No Racial Gap Seen in ’08 Turnout (NYT, 5/1/09)