Rock the Vote

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Rock the Vote
RTV Image.jpg
Ownership type Public, NASDAQ:MSFT
Founded 1975, by Jeff Ayeroff
Headquarters 1505 22nd Street NW
Washington , District of Colombia
United States

Rock the Vote is an interest group that works to mobilize young voters to become involved in political life in America.


Rock the Vote, a private non-profit interest group, whose mission statement is to "politically empower youth", was founded in 1990 by Jeff Ayeroff, a member of the recording industry. Ayeroff, who was affiliated with Virgin Records, founded this group in response to recent attacks on freedom of speech as well as artistic expression. His aim was to use connections in the entertainment industry and the media to promote youth voting. At a time when a very low percentage of young Americans voted, this group was formed to encourage young people to let their voice be heard and teach them that their participation in politics can make a difference. This group chose the media directed at American youth as the best outlet for confronting the problem of low youth involvement in the political realm to foster a more accepting environment for freedom of speech and artistic expression.

In 1990, the year of RTV's inception, Madonna produced a commercial for Rock the Vote wearing a bright red bikini and draping herself in the American flag. In this ad, Madonna sang a tune encouraging viewers to "get up and vote".[1] This advertisement combined elements of celebrity, sexuality, humor and music, collectively aimed at communicating with young people. The encouragement of this key pop figure is indicative of RTV's advertisement strategy and likely caught the attention of young viewers and put the importance of voting into their minds. Since this ad, RTV has used various pop stars and celebrities to communicate the importance of voting to their young fans. For instance, in 2008, Christina Aguilera produced an ad for RTV in which she quietly sang a patriotic song and held an infant draped in the American flag. Communicating the importance of the upcoming generation in influencing elections, Aguilera states "It's time to make history. It's time to rock the vote."[2] These two advertisements show a brand of campaigning that cater directly to the youth population through modes such as entertainment that are most likely to influence young voters who already subscribe to pop culture.

Development of Rock the Vote

In 1992, RTV began registering young voters, and contributed to a 20% increase in voters aged 18-29 from the previous election in 1988. RTV reached out to young people through their “Get Loud” messages, Public Service Announcements that ran on MTV and celebrities’ public endorsement of youth involvement in voting.

Though RTV continued with voting campaigns, the 1996 number of young voters was less than in 1992, and by 2000 there were less young voters than there were in 1988 before the youth mobilization through RTV had begun. After this lag in two elections, RTV, and other groups aimed at organizing young voters, started a “20 Million Loud” campaign aimed at bringing 20 million young voters to the polls in 2004. In 2004 the youth voter turnout rate was 49%, and the numbers for voters aged between 18 and 29 exceeded the goal of 20 million, leading RTV to advertise the slogan “20 Million Proud”.

In 2008, a year when a record-breaking group of young voters surpassed 22 million in the 18-29 year old range, RTV's campaign boasted its greatest involvement and achievements. 2.6 million people completed voter registrations using RTV's online tool, grassroots efforts, and direct mail program, and 251,000 voters signed up for their mobile activists campaign. In regard to youth influence in the election, 69% of young voters aged 18-29 voted for Barack Obama, pushing him to victory.

Current objectives and activities

RTV's 2009 three main objectives are to continue registering young voters, to maintain issue advocacy among American youth, and to promote high school civics and educate even those who are too young to begin voting. Through these three objectives, RTV hopes to follow up on the record number of young voters who participated in the 2008 election with continued and increased involvement among young Americans.

The main current issue focused on in RTV's issue center is health care. This section offers viewers of the website options for more information on the issue and for how to take action on the issue. Other issues under RTV's "other important issues" tab include: "Clean energy and green jobs", "Higher education", and "Voting Rights and Election reform". Viewers of the website are educated on these issues and encouraged to get involved in the debates that spring from them. Viewers of this webpage are told that rocking the vote was just the beginning and they are encouraged to "Stand up on the issues you care about".[3]

Organizational structure

Rock the Vote seeks funds from donors and grants, to be used for various voter mobilization projects.

Executive Director of Rock the Vote: Heather Smith

Smith led RTV in registering their greatest amount of youth voters in 2008. 2.2 million young voters used RTV's voting tools in 2008.

Vice President of Civic Engagement: Thomas Bates

Bates oversees the 2009-2010 election work, high school civic programs, and RTV's issue advocacy efforts.

Vice President of Communications and Marketing: Chrissy Faessen

Faessen develops communincation and marketing strategies using music, artists, celebrities and new technologies to engage youth through the media.

Director of Analytics and Technology: Chris Kennedy

Kennedy conducts research, performance measurement, technology application development, online ads, data management, visualization, and Facebook / Twitter organizing.

Artist/ Label Relations Manager: Kelly Fogel

Fogel communicates with artists, record labels, producers and celebrities to promote political involvement into their public message.

Director of Interactive Media: Mary McClelland

McClelland works with using new technology to promote RTV's cause.


RTV has created a number of successful strategies to encourage youth voting. Strategies such as having young people sign a postcard after writing of their intent to vote that they would receive in the mail just before election day have proven successful by polls. Especially in the year 2008 when 51% of young people aged 18-29 voted, RTV had many record successes in strategies to mobilize young voters. Though RTV can not be assumed as the only factor in uplifting young voters, the fact that 5.7 million people visited their website and 1.6 million joined our email list in 2008 shows that RTV had achieved influence among American youth.

RTV has registered over 3 million first-time voters since its inception

RTV was the first to ever develop a system to register voters online and over the phone. This won RTV the Computerworld Smithsonian Innovation in Technology award.

RTV created a series of films on health issues that aired on MTV. This series of dramatic short films won a Peabody Award.

Public perception and controversies

As a non-partisan group, RTV has has always faced the challenge of finding ways to mobilize voters without actually supporting a certain candidate, party or issue. Therefore, when RTV leaders attempt to inform youth on certain issues and promote their relevance to the youth population, they must be careful to not lend support to one side or the other so as to not lose support from donors, other leaders and young voters who come from a variety of political orientations. This issue has created some opposition to RTV’s efforts in that some claim that the youth population is mostly liberal and that RTV has leaned toward the left in its promotion of issue awareness. For instance, in assertions about the loss of health care in the United States and the high level of unemployment, Rock the Vote has depended on sources such as AFL-CIO, Campaign For America’s Future (which writes that it seeks to ‘expose the conservative agenda that has made things worse’ and ‘revitalize a progressive agenda’) and UC Berkeley Labor Center Program on Young Workers; all of which are considered to be heavily left-leaning organizations.[4]

Another opposition group questions what percentage of the young voters RTV has claimed to mobilize would have voted without the RTV campaign. In this vein, several polls have been conducted among young Americans, including one that asks young voters if they had witnessed or been affected by any of RTV’s various projects in the media. These polls aimed to pinpoint just how many young voters had been affected by RTV as opposed to how many would have voted regardless of the campaign. For instance, the Pew Research Center found in a study conducted in 1998 that 64% of 18-29 year-olds "never" or "hardly ever" watch MTV.[5]-


  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  4. [3]
  5. Shea, Daniel M., ed., & Green, John C., ed. (2007). Fountain of Youth: Strategies and tactics for mobilizing America's young voters. United States of America: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Kelso, Tony, ed., & Cogan, Brian, ed. (2008). Most the Polls: Youth votes, popular culture, and democratic engagement. United States of America: Lexington Books.
  • "Rock the Vote: Building political power for young people". Available: Accessed: September 25, 2009.
  • Shea, Daniel M., ed., & Green, John C., ed. (2007). Fountain of Youth: Strategies and tactics for mobilizing America's young voters. United States of America: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.