MTV is launching its first-ever midterm election drive to encourage young people to register and vote, hoping fans make voting a communal effort with their friends.
The youth-centric network will first publicize the effort Monday at its annual Video Music Awards being held at Radio City Music Hall.
The effort hearkens back to MTV’s “Choose or Lose” campaign when Bill Clinton was first elected in 1992. The interest in social activism this year among its audience convinced MTV to target the issue in a non-presidential election year, said Chris McCarthy, network president. Voter turnout in those years is typically depressed, particularly among young people.
MTV designed its campaign around the concept of shared experiences after noting the importance young people place in them, he said. For example, it is working with the Ford Foundation on a mobile unit where people can register, then check whether their friends are registered and encourage them to do so if they aren’t.
The network is also looking to host some 1,000 parties of different sizes across the country on election day, including larger ones with the participation of yet-to-be-named musicians.
“Voting is important,” McCarthy said. “It matters. But voting with a friend matters even more.”
MTV isn’t the cultural force that it once was. But McCarthy has engineered a turnaround in the network’s fortunes this past year, betting on reality shows and familiar brands. The network’s audience has also aged somewhat, enough so that 86 percent of its typical viewer at any time is 18 or over, or voting age.
MTV is only the latest group to commit to turning out the youth vote in November. Liberal activist and billionaire Tom Steyer has promised to spend at least $31 million on voter organization, believed to be the largest campaign ever targeted to young people. Activists seeking gun control legislation are making similar efforts, buoyed by the work of students following the Parkland school shooting in Florida.
MTV isn’t saying how much it will spend on its campaign, called “+1thevote” in a reference to the phrase for bringing a guest to a concert.
While the other groups are clearly invested in trying to change Republican control of Congress, McCarthy said MTV’s effort is non-partisan. Still, it is being launched at a time Democrats seem more active and engaged.
MTV says its measure of success will be an increase in the percentage of young people voting. During the 2010 midterm election in President Barack Obama’s first term, only 18 percent of people aged 18-to-20 voted, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.
“MTV’s mission is to engage and entertain and celebrate the spirit of youth – everything from activism to escapism and all the messy stuff in between,” McCarthy said.