As a potential shift in the balance of power in Washington looms with just 50 days until the midterm elections, both Republicans and Democrats have begun ramping up voter mobilization efforts with an eye towards a demographic historically not keen on showing up at the polls: young people.
By some estimates, the Democrats are projected to lose control of the Senate and remain the House minority, according to The Rothenberg Political Report, though popular political statistician Nate Silver has noted many Senate races narrowing in Democrats’ favor in recent weeks. Getting young voters to the polls is crucial, as midterm elections tend to attract an older, white and more conservative electorate.
To achieve that, Democrats at the national level are emphasizing their interests in youth issues like equal pay, marriage equality and access to contraception.
“It’s really critical we underscore how important the contrast (between the parties) is here and the choice that young people are going to have,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D–Fla.), the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, said in a conference call last week hosted specifically for college journalists.
One decisive issue Democrats will emphasize is student loan refinancing. The Senate is scheduled to vote this week on Bank On Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, which would allow current borrowers to refinance their student loans at the rates now set for first-time borrowers.
Last summer, Congress authorized students taking out new loans to pay a rate of 3.86 percent; this bill would allow all outstanding borrowers — some of whom pay rates higher than 7 percent on their loans — to restructure their payments at this new lower rate.
What many proponents of the bill take issue with is the amount that the government profits off its student loan program. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Department of Education is projected to amass $127 billion in profit over the next decade from the program — a surplus that Sen. Chris Murphy (D–Conn.) called on the call “egregious and unjustifiable.”
Opponents of this bill take issue with how lowering the borrowing rate would be covered. The current bill, sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) proposes to enact the Buffett Rule: no person with an annual salary higher than $1 million should pay a lower effective tax rate than those with smaller incomes.
Though some House Republicans have argued the interest rate should rise and fall with the economy, LSA senior Gabe Leaf, chairman of the University’s College Republicans chapter, said lowering interest rates would be a helpful policy for many students.
“Student debt is a very troubling thing for a lot of students,” Leaf said. “If we can get those rates down, people will have more disposable income and stimulate the economy.”
Leaf said he opposes Warren’s proposed revenue mechanism, which he sees as a tax increase, but would favor exploring avenues other than taxes to pay for loan restructuring, like a reallocation of funds from other federal departments.
The importance of mobilization efforts has spread to groups on campus. Leaf said College Republicans are joining forces with statewide Republican efforts. They will use Facebook to ensure young voters stay informed on pertinent issues, and inform them of voter registration procedures.
The College Democrats are also prioritizing get out the vote initiatives, LSA junior Stephen Culbertson, College Democrats communications director, said. The group plans to maintain a presence on the Diag until the registration deadline to distribute information on registration.
Both groups anticipate hosting local politicians. Its members will also go to phone banks and do door-to-door flyering.
Aside from the two parties, the University’s Office of the Vice President for Government Relations is involved in educating students on how to register to vote in time for November’s elections. The deadline to register to vote in Michigan is Oct. 6, and the Michigan Secretary of State’s office will be on campus at the Michigan League Monday, Sept. 22 to assist students with their registration needs.