Democrats are embracing beer, birth control and more to attract younger voters

Hello young voters.

Are you tired of the presidential election? Are you depressed by the old men running the two major party candidates? Do you feel like politics has no relevance to your life?

A group of Democratic donors think they may have found a solution to young people’s woes, never mind that the donors themselves are spooked by a widespread youth malaise, given President Biden’s struggles in the polls.

They want politics, the seven or so states that will decide the presidential election, to be something different: dance parties, comedy shows, a place to chill out. Sometimes there’ll be free beer, manicures, shoe shines, rent check raffles, birth control and cold towels. Just by attending, you’re part of something bigger, like Super Bowl Sunday. Oh, maybe one day someone will mention voting.

“No other country is partying as much at the same time as we are,” Dmitri Melhorn, a donor adviser to billionaire Democrats like LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, said of Americans. “There are 2.2 million people under 45 in these states who simply don’t vote but who engage in all sorts of other civic activities.”

The new effort, funded by millions of dollars from Melhorn’s group, Investing in US and others, is currently being piloted in battleground states like Pennsylvania and Arizona. It targets young voters in metropolitan areas of several key states who tend to vote Democratic, if at all. Early polling shows young voters are becoming more disconnected from the political dialogue, which could hurt Democrats’ hopes of keeping the White House. Results of the current pilot will determine funding for the events this fall.

“It’s not hard to get people to come to a cultural event. The key is to make it fun and steer clear of doom and gloom,” said Kevin Mack, chief strategist for The Voter Project, which has been hosting parties testing this theory across Pennsylvania this spring under the banner Stand Up Strong ’24. “People will take action automatically. There’s no need for a lot of pressure.”

Mack’s goal is to get 100,024 young voters in the state to vote this November who didn’t vote this year. He hosted a Saturday concert in Bucks County ahead of this February’s special election, offering free food trucks and beer. Band performance, A sofa from Boston.

He recently took over a community center in Philadelphia, hosting artist talks, networking opportunities, and, most notably, a raffle to win a month’s rent for anyone who verified their voter registration. This August, he plans to set up a sort of Olympic village in Philadelphia to celebrate the athletes in Paris. Free beer is also on the agenda for the fall.

In Phoenix on Saturday, a group called “Pro-Abortion” drove buses around the city, handing out free emergency contraception and feminine hygiene products and building buzz for a daytime concert by Lauren Jauregui, which also featured DJs, local luminaries and the actress Busy Phillips. Biden’s name was not at the center of the promotion.

Other groups are exploring the idea of ​​staging early-morning raves near early voting sites in states like Pennsylvania, where early voting will take place over five weeks in some counties this year, and a group called Pizza to the Polls plans to repeat its efforts of delivering food to people waiting in long lines on Election Day.

“In some ways it’s very 19th century,” says Donald Green, a Columbia University political scientist who has studied the effectiveness of parties to encourage voters near polling places. “Before the so-called Progressive Reforms of the 1880s, there were marching bands, entertainment, and free whiskey for all-male voters.”

Since then, state and federal laws have prohibited offering whiskey or other things of value in exchange for voting or registering to vote. But state election laws generally do not prohibit offering money, food, or other entertainment to encourage civic participation or near polling stations. Nonprofits that use tax-deductible contributions from anonymous donors can pay all of their expenses as long as their efforts do not encourage loyalty to a political party or candidate. Sweepstakes are generally permitted as long as there is a way to enter without taking any requested action.

“Whether you voted or not, you should be able to have a beer,” said Brian Svoboda, a campaign finance attorney with the law firm Perkins Coy.

Political campaigns have long offered some kind of giveaway, such as paying for a pizza lunch before the Iowa caucuses or covering the costs of the big arena shows Trump likes to put on at his rallies, but the Trump campaign still scoffs at the idea that donors who support Biden need to spend big money to connect with young people, even going so far as to serve alcohol at their events.

“The only way allies of weak, failed and corrupt leaders can seduce the American people into continuing four more years of disastrous policies is to get them drunk. Biden needs to stop treating young, black and Hispanic voters like they’re stupid,” Trump campaign adviser Chris LaCivita said in a statement. “The minute the election is over, his liberal donors will stop paying rent, throwing block parties and continuing to ignore their interests as they always have.”

Since 2005, Green has conducted multiple studies on the effect of parties held near polling places during elections on turnout, with results varying depending on everything from weather to publicity. and skills He said events come at a cost to party planners, but if they go well, they can boost turnout by 4 to 6 percentage points at a lower cost per vote than other tactics such as door-to-door canvassing or phone banking.

Alarm bells have been ringing for some time about a growing disconnect between young voters and politics and political institutions: A Harvard Kennedy School of Politics poll found that the percentage of Americans ages 18 to 29 who say they have confidence in the president has fallen 60 percent since 2015. A third of college students say they are reluctant to express political opinions for fear of censorship or negative repercussions.

“In retrospect, maybe we should have talked about this more,” said Isabella Sánchez Castañeda, 26, a podcast producer who attended a recent Stand Up Strong event in Philadelphia, where she raffled off $8,000 to cover rent. “I think it’s just a sign of fatigue, of ‘What do we do at this point?'”

The impact of the pandemic and stay-at-home orders during the 2020 election are also affecting how Democratic donors approach the challenge of encouraging young people to make an electoral choice that most Americans never wanted to make.

“I think there’s very strong evidence that because of the pandemic and the general heaviness that’s in the air right now, the epidemic of loneliness, that in-person contact would be beneficial for them and would be beneficial for the cause,” said Ashley Spillane, founder of the Civic Responsibility Project and former head of Rock the Vote, a long-time group that has tried to boost voter turnout with musical talent.

A movement called Mente, Spanish for “heart,” explicitly seeks to use mental health needs to make inroads in Arizona’s Latino youth culture. The group sought attention by giving away Bad Bunny tickets, sponsoring a comedy festival and setting up a chill-out tent offering free towels and shoe shines at a recent Mexican music festival in Phoenix. They offered mental health advice and conversations and suggested people check their voter registration.

“The messaging about voting isn’t reaching people who never see their vote go to them. These are people who are suffering. They’re in danger,” said Dan McSwain, a co-founder with a marketing background. “Our message is that if people don’t get involved, the system is just going to continue to fail them.”

Mr. Melhorn said a final decision on how much money to put into such efforts to appeal to disaffected young people won’t be made until late summer or early fall. One possibility is that companies will jump on the projects as an opportunity to market their products to the same hard-to-reach demographic.

Giveaways at Saturday’s pro-abortion vote event were part of a partnership between ItsAugust, a maker of tampons and sanitary napkins, and Julie, the maker of FDA-approved emergency contraception. also participated in this event.

“Instead of reinventing the wheel, we’re meeting them where they are,” said Jenny Kay, one of the organizers. “We’re going out to them.”

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