The ballots have been counted, they’ve cleaned up Grant Park, and the 2008 presidential election is finally history — literally.

Whether you’re ecstatic or disgruntled about the outcome, you have to agree that what happened is unique, in more ways than the obvious (our first black president). The fact that more than 130 million Americans turned out to vote (the biggest number in 44 years!) flies in the face of conventional wisdom about voter apathy, political burnout, voting along racial/regional lines, and just about everything else we’ve come to expect.

So what was different this time around? Obviously, the economic disaster and two wars dragging on were major factors in turning the tide against the incumbent administration. But there was much more at work here than simple backlash. I think the real story lies at least in part with the number of young voters and how they communicate and relate with each other and the world.

According to CNN’s numbers, 18 percent of the voters were between the ages of 18 and 29, and 66 percent of them voted for Obama. The Gen Y voter trend began in 2004, when 20 million of them cast a ballot, the largest young-voter turnout since 1972 (remember “get clean for Gene”?), according to the Young Democrats of America (

And as AA&B tech writer Tom Baker so often reminds us, the Millennial Generation is characterized by its technological sophistication and constant connection to each other and the world via social networks, blogs, Twitter, IM and text.

The Obama campaign knew this demographic well, and tapped into the youthful zeitgeist by making it as easy as possible for its supporters to get out the vote. Volunteers could canvass door to door or call registered voters from online lists at the Obama Web site, then click an online checklist to record their responses. The campaign was in constant communication with its supporters; if the sheer volume of e-mail is any indication, I’m now on a first-name basis not only with Barack and Michelle, but with Dave (Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager) and occasionally Joe (Biden).

What does any of this have to do with insurance agents? Plenty. The Obama campaign used every form of technology and communication at its disposal to reach a new generation of voters, just as our industry must come to terms with this emerging market demographic, both as employees and as customers.

But I’m not paraphrasing good old Marshall McLuhen here; I don’t believe the medium alone is the message. Young people have been marketed to virtually from infancy onward. They’re savvy about being sold a bill of goods. It’s not enough to reach them by Twitter, e-mail or YouTube. Your message has to be authentic and succinct to grab them.

I’ll be ruminating more on this topic over the next month as we gear up for our January issue on talent management. Meanwhile, I’d love to get your thoughts on reaching Gen Y. Can we reach them? Yes, we should!