By Erin P. Billings
House Democrats are turning to the Internet to bolster their outreach to young Americans on Social Security, hoping to wage a counteroffensive against the Bush administration’s targeting of twentysomething voters in its fight to enact private retirement accounts.
The Democrats’ latest effort uses the Internet and e-mail to engage those Americans who so far have paid little attention to the Social Security debate. Democrats believe younger voters are more likely to respond to an electronic message than to community forums and printed newsletters.
Specifically, leaders have instructed Members to hold at least one electronic “town hall” meeting and to send out an e-mail newsletter on Social Security in the coming months. House Democrats have already held more than 300 traditional town hall meetings throughout the country, including some in Republican-leaning districts.
“Because young people change addresses so frequently and lead such technology-centered lives, we realized that the best way for us to reach them is through the Internet, using e-town halls and e-newsletters rather than traditional direct mail and town halls,” said Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who is taking a lead on the Democratic initiative.
Democratic leaders this morning will give their colleagues a “how-to” packet on hosting an electronic town hall and assembling an e-mail newsletter. Democratic leaders are anticipating that Members can reach out to between 7,000 and 15,000 youth in each district through each electronic means.
In addition, Democratic leadership is coordinating with Rock the Vote, a nonpartisan group that registers young people to vote, to help promote and increase participation in the effort.
The Democrats’ effort comes on the heels of a series of forums by Members, including one scheduled for each of the nation’s 100 largest college campuses. Already, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.) and Sander Levin (Mich.), ranking member on the Ways and Means subcommittee on Social Security, have held electronic town hall meetings in their districts.
Blumenauer said in an interview that the Internet is the logical venue to connect with tech-savvy Americans on Social Security. He added that electronic town halls allow Members to hear from constituents quickly and directly, to respond immediately and to help them sort through the facts.
“In my experience, it is a very powerful tool,” said Blumenauer, who claimed he had 1,000 Internet hits during his one-hour town hall forum in March.
House Democrats are kicking off this phase of their campaign just as President Bush continues his travels around the country to promote a reform of the Social Security system. The GOP’s target audience is broad, but officials have paid special attention to younger Americans in recent weeks.
Republican officials were skeptical of the Democratic strategy.
“Whether they’re standing at a microphone or pecking the keyboard, altering the venue doesn’t change the fact that Democrats have a losing message on Social Security when it comes to young voters,” said Greg Crist, spokesman for the House Republican Conference.
“We’re going to continue to push back on the Republicans’ attempt to reach out to young people,” said one Democratic leadership aide.
Pelosi, who has visited one college campus and will be at Columbia University next week to meet with young voters, said that Democrats intend to educate younger Americans that risky private accounts will assuredly lead to cuts in their guaranteed Social Security benefits.
“President Bush likes to say that under his privatization plan, young people have the most to gain,” Pelosi said. “But the truth is they have the most to lose.”