How to Turn Out the Youth Vote Youth voters came out in record numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire, largely because student organizations pounded the pavement. Sujatha Jahagidar, program director of the New Voters Project, discusses what's working.
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How to Turn Out the Youth Vote

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How to Turn Out the Youth Vote

How to Turn Out the Youth Vote

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Someone who does care about getting out the youth vote is Sujatha Jahagidar. She's the program director of the New Voters Project, and that's part of Student PIRG, Public Interest Research Group.

Welcome to the program.

Ms. SUJATHA JAHAGIRDAR (Program Director, Student Public Interest Research Group, New Voters Project): Thanks for having me.

BRAND: Okay, so far we're seeing the youth vote as a big deal, at least in the Democratic primaries or the caucuses, at least, in Iowa, and also in New Hampshire. And so do you have a sense of how much bigger the youth vote is this year than it has been in previous years?

Ms. JAHAGIRDAR: Well, the youth vote is a very big deal in this country this election. Twenty-five percent of the electorate in 2008 will be young voters, age 18 to 29. That's a lot of votes up for grabs. And what's interesting about the youth vote is that the rise that we're seeing this election season is not a fluke. In fact, the youth vote has been on the rise since 2004, when the number of young people that voted in that election actually surged by nine percent, which was twice the rate of the population at large.

And so what we're looking at in 2008 is a generation that is more civically engaged than ever. We're looking at a generation that is looking at the world around them and seeing major problems - like global warming, like financial insecurity, like health care - that their parents' generation has failed to solve.

BRAND: Now, of course the challenge being to get them to vote.

Ms. JAHAGIDAR: I think the important thing to remember in 2008 is that the youth vote isn't a magical phenomenon. Young people just don't appear for no reason at the polls. There's a reason they're appearing. One of the major reasons is because there has been a concentrated effort to actually get out on the ground and onto campuses and into the homes of young people and actually get them out to vote through face-to-face, peer-to-peer efforts.

The second reason that young people are showing up is because the candidates are actually talking about their issues more than they have in the past. And so, for example, you saw Hillary Clinton in her victory speech in New Hampshire reference predatory student lending, which - let's just face it - has not been the sexiest issue in this election so far. When young people feel like they actually are considered an important part of the electoral process, they do tune in.

BRAND: And you, at Student PIRG, New Voters Project, what are you doing specifically? What are some of your tactics to get the youth vote out?

Ms. JAHAGIDAR: We employ a model that basically involves training young student leaders to go on to college campuses and basically recruit a group of young people around them that will run a voter registration get out the vote effort on their campus.

So for example, in Iowa we ran a project called Iowa PIRG's Rock the Caucus where we identified 250 student leaders who pledged to get 20 of their friends or fellow students to caucus. They used Facebook and phoned up all their friends and organized little parties in a couple of days before the caucuses.

Another tactic that we used consistently is our large phone banks, because we found that if you actually contact a young person, get them to pledge to vote or caucus or show up at election day through a one-on-one interaction, and then you re-contact them three times before election day to remind them to get out to vote, their likelihood of showing up is over 85 percent. And so that's the model that we use.

BRAND: And will you be repeating that model and these tactics as we go through the primary season?

Ms. JAHAGIDAR: We will. So for example, at the University of California, Davis, student leaders are gearing up for the California primary already. So students are planning a four-day blitz, where they are planning to invade 100 classrooms, then take five to 10 minutes in a classroom where they pass out voter registration forms and give students the opportunity to register right there. There is also a talk of hiring a man in a gorilla suit to run around campus saying vote, which - I don't know if that's a proven get out the vote technique, but at least it generates some visibility.

So the techniques range from, you know, kind of the tried and true organizing techniques, and then the gravy or the, you know, the intangible part of the effort is to generate as much visibility on campus as possible so that young people feel like it's actually a fun, cool thing to do to show up on election day.

BRAND: Sujatha Jahagidar. She is the program director for the student PIRG's New Voters Project. Thanks for joining us.

Ms. JAHAGIDAR: Thanks for having me.

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