Over the past few months, it was difficult to miss the barrage of reminders regarding the importance of voting in this year’s midterm elections. This was especially true at Dartmouth, where members of the College Democrats became somewhat notorious for standing around on campus and asking passersbys whether they were interested in voting for Democrats in New Hampshire this year. The College Democrats’ rigorous efforts to get out the vote — and the forthrightness with which they addressed passing students — could have come as a bit of a surprise to those who weren’t accustomed to such campaigning.
The College Democrats themselves recognized the issues that might arise when approaching potential student voters, and hoped to tailor their message to the situation. Max Brautigam ’20, president of the College Democrats, explains that the Democrats around campus were not focused on convincing students to vote for Democrats, but to mobilize Democratic voters.
“We’re not trying to persuade people,” Brautigam said. “We know that persuading people is hard. It’s not a good use of our time. It’s not efficient, it’s not effective [and] it’s very hard to train people to convince other people to change their political ideology or their party affiliation … At this point [in time], we’re all about getting out the vote.”
Though Brautigam believes that it was too late in the campaign to use persuasion techniques when talking with voters, the general strategy of the Democrats’ effort changed as election day neared. Through the first few weeks of the fall term, their ultimate strategy was to find students who were interested in voting and to stay in touch with them to make sure that they did so.
“For most of the term, probably the first two thirds, we were looking for [students] to commit to vote and … join a mailing and call list so that we can keep in touch with them about voting,” Brautigam said. “Our goal is to have the most conversations possible with people. We talk to them about what their plan is for voting, or if they have any concerns or questions about eligibility for voting or [voter] registration.”
Later in the term, the Democrats focused on the specifics when talking to potential voters in order to ensure that everything was set for them to go to the polls.
“Right now, we’re dealing with [people’s] plans for voting,” Brautigam said. “[For example], ‘Visualize it with me. What time are you going? Do you know where to go? Who are you going with? Do you know what to bring?’ Because there are a lot of people who’ll be like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll vote!’ and they have the intention of voting, but it’s not a high priority for them or they don’t get around to doing it. And a big part of that is because they haven’t written it in their calendar or they haven’t made a concrete plan of when in their day it makes the most sense for them to go [vote].”
Although they claim they were not interested in convincing people to change their political allegiances, the College Democrats did hope to give Democratic voters the motivation that they needed to go to the polls. Michael Parsons ’20, a member of the College Democrats’ executive board, believes that it is important to stress the importance of individual votes when conducting get-out-the-vote efforts.
“One thing we really want to highlight is how important it is to vote, whether it be in your home state or here in New Hampshire,” Parsons said. “It’s really a case of, ‘What do you want to see represented?’ ... We want people to vote [with] their values and, most importantly, just vote. Because it’s a turnout game, especially here in New Hampshire … and it’s really important for [Dartmouth students] to turn out to vote to elect Democrats. For instance, [New Hampshire U.S. Senator] Maggie Hassan ... won her race by 1,017 votes. That’s less than a class at Dartmouth.”
The College Democrats recognized that it could be difficult to effectively convey their message to potential student voters when simply approaching them in public spaces. Samuel Zarkower ’20, treasurer of the College Democrats, says that the group aimed for volunteers to be courteous and empathetic in order to connect with other students.
“You have to make sure that [volunteers talking to potential voters] are respectful, but that they are willing to … try to get people out to the polls,” Zarkower said. “If the person is not interested in voting, if they’re from a different state and they’d rather just stay [voting there], or if they’d rather not vote at all, just let them go on their way. But if you think you see an opening, a common interest or something that they’re really passionate about when you’re talking with them … you talk about that.”
Additionally, Brautigam believes that the specific wording used by volunteers was important to connecting with the maximum number of students — including some who do not identify as Democrats — while minimizing the time spent on uninterested students.
“A lot of [students] vote with the Democrats and they don’t consider themselves Democrats,” Brautigam said. “[That’s] part of the reason why we would say, ‘Are you planning on voting with the Democrats?’ rather than ‘Are you a Democrat?’ At the same time, [this strategy] very clearly distinguish[es] what we’re doing … Someone who already knows for sure that they’re not going to be voting with the Democrats is going to know not to waste their time or waste our time. I think cross-party conversations are very important … but that’s an instance in which [our strategy] really streamlines the process of contacting the people who we align with.”
Though some students may have become somewhat annoyed after being approached by a member of the College Democrats while walking about campus, Zarkower argues that the club’s get-out-the-vote tactics had a positive impact.
“The alternative is [that] our voice will not be heard,” Zarkower said. “If people aren’t going out there pushing people to go and express themselves, then we’re more likely to be apathetic. And when we’re apathetic, our opinions and our positions aren’t heard at all. Historically, young voters have been one of the smallest [voting] groups despite our large population size. And in a true democracy, the more people you have voting, the more democratic it is. So it’s very important work, even if it might annoy people a little bit, which I understand.”
Similarly, Brautigam believes that the College Democrats’ effort to drive up student turnout successfully adhered to the core beliefs of the party at large.
“We like to think of ourselves as the people’s party. And we simply cannot do that and hold our heads high and know that we’re doing it right if the people aren’t voting,” Brautigam said. “Young people vote at atrocious rates compared to senior citizens or even middle-aged adults. If people are wondering why our government doesn’t reflect them, it’s because it’s being elected by people who aren’t them. So that’s the key. If you don’t like it, you have the power to change it.”