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.

Image by Gina Reis

Brandon Cofield and Jeb Saelens, University seniors and members of Sigma Chi Fraternity, call potential voters Saturday.

by James Nord

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 âÄúpermanent Democratic majority,âÄù in the United States, said group director Jake Breedlove. Although Breedlove said heâÄôs confident 2008âÄôs high number of Democratic votes among young people can be repeated, some experts see a different picture. âÄúItâÄôs really clear that young people turned out to vote for Obama, but theyâÄôre not coming out for other people at this point,âÄù 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 StateâÄôs 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 governorâÄôs 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. âÄúItâÄôs going to decide the election,âÄù Breedlove said. âÄúIf we can get these [15 million] people to vote again, thereâÄôs no question in my mind weâÄôll win by a handy majority.âÄù 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, itâÄôs important to start early and offer persistent reminders, Schultz said, praising SOFA for using phone banks to plant the seed early. âÄúTelling [people] to go out to vote is no different than marketing beer,âÄù Schultz said. âÄúWhat you basically have to do is keep advertising, keep reminding people,âÄù something Obama did well in 2008, he said. Schultz also credited the presidentâÄôs 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 âÄî some of whom supported Obama âÄî 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 ObamaâÄôs 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. âÄúPeople who are pissed off are the ones who turn out to vote,âÄù Schultz said. âÄúI donâÄôt 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.âÄù It is likely Democrats will face at least some losses, which could hamper ObamaâÄôs 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 militaryâÄôs âÄúdonâÄôt ask, donâÄôt tellâÄù 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, âÄúThat pretty much shuts down [ObamaâÄôs] agenda,âÄù Schultz said. âÄúIt ends at that point.âÄù