ACA worker hands out enrollment information encouraging young people to sign up for Obamacare

Democrats have a real problem this year.

The 2014 election could go almost as badly as the 2010 election unless they can drive turnout among some of the groups that strongly support Democratic candidates, like Millennials. So it is probably not great that the Democrats’ most extensive outreach campaign directed towards Millennials is about  helping large corporations .

Clearly the main PR focus of the Obama administration and the Democratic party has been convincing young healthy adults to sign up for the Affordable Care Act. President Obama has pulled out all the stop to tell young people to sign up even appearing on Between Two Ferns Other than for his re-election campaign, the Obama team has arguably never tried this hard to inform young people about a policy or get them to take action.

The single biggest Democratic campaign directed at Millennials is not  primarily about helping Millennials, however. While I believe Obama honestly thinks young people would be better off if they signed up, everyone knows young healthy people are not one of the groups that will benefit significantly from insurance expansion. They tend to rarely need health services and under the design of the law their premiums will be noticeably more than what they will get back in services.

It has been very publicly acknowledged that the big reason Democrats have been so focused on getting young people to sign up is precisely because on net they are not expected to benefit. The administration wants young people to sign up to assure the insurance companies will make enough money off them that they won’t raise premiums for older individuals significantly. Of course Democrats could have made every premium much lower by ending the obscene price gouging in the health care industry, but they didn’t. Instead the economically hardest hit generation is being asked to chip in. That is a big ask.

I understand the policy rational for this campaign given the current law but that doesn’t make the politics of it any less terrible. Going with a system that requires convincing people who aren’t going to significantly benefit to actively sign up is inherently a PR nightmare. Much of the time Obama is talking about the law now he is effectively trying to convince young people to overpay to help making some very unpopular corporations profitable. Politically the focus of any policy campaign should be those that are most helped, not the one that are least helped.

Imagine how things would go in an alternative universe where Democrats expand coverage through some automatic public program. Without needing to spend so much effort on making sure the market had enough consumers to work, Democrats could have focused all these outreach efforts on only the people who would benefit the most.

If you want to get young people to turnout maybe try making the focus of your youth outreach a program designed primarily to help young people.

Photo by BarrieImages under Creative Commons license