University student group stresses importance of voting

Students Organizing For America are boosting votes.
Brandon Cofield and Jeb Saelens, University seniors and members of Sigma Chi Fraternity, call potential voters Saturday.
By
  • Gina Reis
June 09, 2010

Following historical trends, the 2010 midterm election will likely attract significantly fewer voters than did the 2008 presidential election.
But at least one student group is trying to change that.
Students Organizing For America, a nationwide effort that includes a subset of President Barack Obama supporters at the University of Minnesota, kicked off a series of events last week aimed at instituting a “permanent Democratic majority,” in the United States, said group director Jake Breedlove.
Although Breedlove said he’s confident 2008’s high number of Democratic votes among young people can be repeated, some experts see a different picture.
“It’s really clear that young people turned out to vote for Obama, but they’re not coming out for other people at this point,” said David Schultz, who teaches classes on public policy at Hamline University.
In 2008, about 72 percent of the total votes in the two precincts most attended by University students were cast for Obama, according to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office.
SOFA hopes to recruit the 15 million first-time voters, many of them young, that voted in 2008 and convince them to continue the national congressional majority, as well as retain key spots in Minnesota and take the governor’s office from Republicans.
About 1 million more 18- to 24-year-olds showed up to the polls in 2008 than in previous election years, according to a May 2010 Census Bureau report.
“It’s going to decide the election,” Breedlove said. “If we can get these [15 million] people to vote again, there’s no question in my mind we’ll win by a handy majority.”
But that could prove to be tough. Students are difficult to entice to vote because they are transient and often have other concerns than heading to the polls, Schultz said.
In order to reach college students, it’s important to start early and offer persistent reminders, Schultz said, praising SOFA for using phone banks to plant the seed early.
“Telling [people] to go out to vote is no different than marketing beer,” Schultz said. “What you basically have to do is keep advertising, keep reminding people,” something Obama did well in 2008, he said.
Schultz also credited the president’s use of social media, his age and a new generation of voters for his success, among other
factors.
This time around, SOFA is well positioned because they have a database of 2008 voters — some of whom supported Obama — to contact, Schultz said.
Having a national group in place completely focused on organizing and canvassing will be helpful to Democrats on the whole. In addition to contacting people to urge them to vote, SOFA members will be working on Obama’s legislative agenda and canvassing for state Sen. Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.
But Republicans will see advantages too.
For one, the disunity of the Democrats, both on the national and state levels, especially in terms of the bloody primary battle they face in Minnesota, gives the Republicans a lead in campaigning.
On top of that, the Republicans have anger, fueled by the Tea Party movement and stoked by health care reform and the economy, to unify them, Schultz said.
“People who are pissed off are the ones who turn out to vote,” Schultz said. “I don’t see the sense of anger or sense of excitement [for] Obama in this situation here that will motivate young people to come out to vote.”
It is likely Democrats will face at least some losses, which could hamper Obama’s agenda, Schultz said. As a result, he said, the president is likely to push some contentious projects through while he still has time. For instance, Wall Street reform, environmental regulations and repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy are all on the table right now.
But for SOFA, the stakes are high.
If the Democrats lose a majority in the U.S. House or Senate, “That pretty much shuts down [Obama’s] agenda,” Schultz said. “It ends at that point.”

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