CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Young voters are a key piece of the Obama campaign’s organizing efforts at this year’s Democratic National Convention, as the president works to recapture the energy of his 2008 campaign.
During the party’s gathering in Charlotte, Obama organizers are looking for ways to engage with the president’s backers in North Carolina and to effectively organize local troops on the ground. While the halls of the Charlotte Convention Center buzz with DNC delegates this week, the space just hosted conventions for the College Democrats of America and Young Democrats of America. Many of those delegates stayed in town for this week’s events.
“We really see this as a key opportunity to directly work with some of our key organizers on college campuses and make sure that they have all the tools that they need as they go back to their campuses this fall,” says Brent Colburn, the Obama campaign’s communications director.
Appeals to young voters are built into the convention’s speaker list over the next three days. Colburn says many speakers will focus on experiences relevant to youth voters, including entering the workforce or enlisting in the military—expect plenty of talk about bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
To be sure, there are clear signs that youth engagement is down this election cycle. A recent Gallup poll found just 58 percent of youth voters say they plan to vote this fall. That’s the lowest number Gallup found among any age cohort.
On Tuesday, Obama pollster Joel Benenson brushed off concerns over turnout among key groups come November.
“People say they’re worried about turnout with Latino voters, African American voters, young voters,” Benenson said, at a breakfast event sponsored by National Journal. “I don’t believe there’s any enthusiasm gap there. I think they’re engaging more … Young kids are back at college, they’re registering to vote again and they’re turning out. Every stop the president has been at this week, the crowds have been bigger.”
The campaign’s upcoming schedule will also reflect the focus on youth voters. The Obama camp points out that the president visited three college campuses in swing states last week and has plans to continue the focus on college campuses across the country in the coming weeks.
“Right now, as students are coming back to campus, is really the first time that they’re tuning in and getting engaged,” Colburn says, echoing Benenson’s message. “So we’re seeing the same type of volunteers and the same type of enthusiasm we saw in 2008; we’re just seeing it at a different point in the cycle.”
In conjunction with the DNC, the Obama campaign also launched its 9-3-1 program, where campaign volunteers who offer nine hours of their time during three three-hour shifts get a community credential, or ticket, to the president acceptance speech at Bank of America stadium Thursday night.
At last look, 6,000 volunteers were participating, and a similar program from the 2008 campaign in Denver found many of those volunteers were recurring. Organizers have registration and volunteer sign-up efforts rolling throughout convention week, and actor Kal Penn will make a field pitch during the DNC.