Organizers Target Young Voters With GOTV Project

Posted December 5, 2003 at 4:42pm

In an effort to boost the number of young voters for the 2004 elections, the state Public Interest Research Groups, the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management and others have engineered an ambitious voter turnout project targeting 2 million 18- to 24-year-olds in six states.

“Our goal is to increase youth voter turnout in six states and to use the kind of latest grassroots technology and organizing methods to show that young people can be mobilized and turned out in significant numbers,” explained Ivan Frishberg, outreach and development coordinator for the groups’ effort, the New Voters Project.

Currently, only 50.7 percent of young people are registered to vote, and fewer than half of eligible 18- to 24-year-old cast ballots in the 2000 national elections according to research by Yale University academics.

Youth voter turnout declined by 13 percent in presidential election years between 1972 and 2000, and only 42 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted in 2000, compared with 64 percent of citizens over the age of 25.

Frishberg said he believes that part of the problem may be that young people simply aren’t asked to vote.

“Any activist or organizer will tell you the first step to getting people to do something is to ask them,” Frishberg said.

“We have the resources, the right people and the research to challenge the cycle of neglect that exists between young people and politicians,” said Wendy Wendlandt, political director for the state PIRGS.

The nonpartisan effort will focus on registering and turning out young voters in Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — states where project coordinators determined they could get the best bang for their buck due to the density of young people.

The New Voters Project has received funding for the effort from the Pew Charitable Trusts and has formed an advisory committee with notable political figures from both sides of the aisle. They include: former Vice President Walter Mondale; former President Gerald Ford; Frank Fahernkopf Jr., former chairman of the Republican National Committee; and Don Fowler, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

The new group will also be working in concert with MTV’s Rock the Vote, World Wrestling Entertainment and the Hip Hop Summit Action Network to mobilize new voters.

Even in the Internet Age, Frishberg said the group plans to rely on more traditional means of reaching out to new voters — namely with one-on-one contact through door-to-door canvassing and phone calls, as well as campus organizing.

“We will principally be relying not on the techno fixes and gizmos that have been popular in a lot of campaigns,” Frishberg said, explaining that “human being-type” contact tends to be more successful in such outreach efforts.

Research by Yale professors Alan Gerber and Donald Green backs up this theory. In a published series of studies, Gerber and Green — who conducted studies across several election cycles in multiple jurisdictions — found that door-to-door canvassing can substantially increase turnout among young people.

Specifically, they have consistently found an 8- to 10-point increase in turnout among young voters contacted face-to-face.

Moreover, they have discovered that volunteer phone banks are more effective than professional phone banks and have consistently found a 3- to 5-point increases in turnout among voters contacted by phone.