In most states, including Michigan, college students make up a large proportion of the voting demographic. While candidates rely on TV commercials to voice their platforms to the majority of voters, fewer college-aged voters are watching TV, decreasing the effectiveness of this strategy.
With the Nov. 4 election quickly approaching, candidates are adopting new strategies to reach out to college students.
“Candidates know that students very often don’t have the same exposure to political media as the average Michigander,” wrote LSA senior Trevor Dolan, chair of the University’s chapter of the College Democrats, in an e-mail interview. “Because of this, they speak directly to students on campus as often as they can.”
The College Democrats have already hosted several congressional candidates this semester and are slated to host an “election eve rally” Monday, during which candidates, including gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer, U.S. Senate candidate Gary Peters, congressional candidate Debbie Dingell and state Senator Rebekah Warren, are set to speak.
In addition to direct engagement, many candidates realize that while students may not be watching as much TV as they used to, social media and video sharing platforms are an increasingly effective tool to mobilize the millennial generation voter.
“YouTube humor videos may now have opening political ads tied to the congressional district,” wrote Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, in an e-mail interview. “There have even been ad placements within video games.”
While he said campaigning in this way will catch the attention of more students, Levine added that “door-to-door and face-to-face campaigning have always been effective with young people and remain most important.”
While communicating effectively with students is important, candidates also acknowledge that it is just as important to focus on the issues that college students are most passionate about.
Dolan, Levine, and LSA senior Gabriel Leaf, chair of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, agree that the issues affecting college students most are fiscally related.
According to the Campus Vote Project, a national campaign run by the Fair Elections Legal Network to make voting more accessible to students, average state funding for higher education has declined about 23 percent, or $2,026 per student since the recession in 2008. Dolan added that certain social issues, such as pay equality for women and anti-discrimination policies for the LGBTQ community, are of great concern to students as they prepare to enter the workforce.
While these issues will impact college students more directly than any other demographic, opinions differ over whether issue-based mobilization is a factor when college students decide for whom they are going to vote.
“Young people vote on a candidate because of their stance on one or two issues,” Leaf wrote.
He contends the issues they consider when voting are often influenced by the beliefs of their parents.
Levine, however disagreed: “It’s rare for someone to be motivated by only one issue unless it functions as a tie-breaker (between candidates).”
He does agree with Dolan that students vote for candidates with whom they share certain beliefs, such as ideology and political party.
Despite the candidates’ best efforts, it may be optimistic to believe that students who vote next Tuesday will be the best informed on the issues and the candidates.
“For many of us, this is our first election cycle and it is hard to stay well-informed,” Leaf wrote.
Levine said campaign awareness varies, but voters are particularly less informed when it comes to state and local elections as these are “poorly covered in the media that young people read.”
While how, and with what arsenal, candidates reach out to college students differs, Dolan, Levine and Leaf all said the student vote is invaluable.
Dolan characterized the stakes by quoting Debbie Dingell, Democratic nominee for the U.S. Representative seat left vacant by her husband.
“Young people are 25 percent of our population and 100 percent of our future.”