As October approaches, the 2012 Presidential election is now firmly in our sights. And the challenges facing both parties are historically daunting because a good portion of the target audience is apathetic – a toxic condition to any communications effort.
On one side sits the incumbent and eminently beatable Democrat. This is the same Barack Obama who as a fresh-faced junior senator from Illinois dazzled us in 2008 with oratory and promises of change. He energized a voting nation, most notably young voters, who came out in near-record numbers. Between 22 million and 24 million 18- to 29-year-olds cast votes that November, the second-largest youth voter movement in US history – and a large majority of those ballots went his way.
Fast forward to this week and we find news that MTV, which remains a network that strongly influences and is influenced by today's youth, has denied a request by Obama's re-election campaign to help the President connect with that very audience. Ever since Bill Clinton pursued the White House in the early '90s, MTV has been a viable forum for Presidential aspirants. Now it is shying away. It would be hard not to assume that youth's ambivalence did not factor in that decision.
When you look at the other side of the aisle, the view is just as dim. There seems to be a GOP debate every other day and a straw poll on the days there isn't one. And depending on which day it is, either Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Mitt Romney, or Rick Perry appear to be leading in the race to be Obama's opponent.
How well are they doing at energizing the GOP base? So well that it seems the entire Republican Party will do anything to get New Jersey Governor Chris Christie – a man who has said repeatedly he has no intention of running – into the race. Republicans are desperately looking for a reason to get excited, but the party hasn't given it to them yet.
Need more proof? One need look no further back than the November 2010 mid-term elections, which were particularly anticipated because frustration with the Democrat-led Congress was palpable. A scant 37.8% of eligible voters cast ballots. Compare that to countries like Italy, Belgium, Austria, and Australia, where more than 90% of the voting public casts ballots at each election.
This is a critical time in this country's history. As such, the decision on who will lead us beginning in 2013 is one that should have the rapt attention of every US citizen. Unfortunately, it appears that the populace is simply exasperated by the prospect of choosing between an incumbent who has – if you judge by approval ratings – badly underperformed and a group of would-be challengers whose best attribute is that none of them are the incumbent. And therein lies the immediate challenge: In order for each party to communicate its candidate's message, they have to get the audience to care enough to listen.
Gideon Fidelzeid is the managing editor of PRWeek. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.