Here's a pretty dumb idea: Get a bunch of celebrities, put them in a YouTube video, rewrite an overplayed hit song, and drive young people to the polls. Just look at this:
See, they all put "Lil" in front of their names, because ... well, anyway. The video earned snarky reactions like this one:
I wasn't going to vote, but then Lil Jon told me to turn out— JustinGreen∞ (@JGreenDC) October 7, 2014
The critique seems straightforward enough. So many of these youth-voting pushes come off as either hopeless pandering or hopelessly ridiculous—I'm looking at you, "Vote or Die." Pundits have been writing Rock the Vote off as at best harmless and at worst a waste for a decade. (For what it's worth, Rock the Vote spokeswoman Audrey Gelman shakes the haters off: "Mocking sincerity is so 2005.")
But what if ... it actually works?
It's certainly true that youth turnout could use a boost. Looking just at presidential elections, the voting rate from ages 18-24 has crested when, as in 1992 and 2008, there was a young, charismatic, liberal candidate on the ballot. But Obama is old news, and Millennials have soured on him somewhat.
Voter Turnout Rates by Age, 1988-2012
There's not a great deal of research, but what there is suggests this video might not be so crazy—though it might also not be the most effective way for Rock the Vote to drive turnout. Political scientists Donald Green and Lynn Vavreck found that this sort of advertising—nonpartisan (we'll return to that) and specifically targeted at young voters—really does make a difference, or at least it did in 2004 in a contentious presidential election. Green and Vavreck calculated that young voters targeted by Rock the Vote ads had 2.7 percent higher turnout.