BOULDER– Students make up a key voting bloc for Democrats this year, as they did in 2008 and, according to volunteers at the University of Colorado’s flagship campus today, voting enthusiasm has picked up considerably since President Obama visited here on Thursday. Volunteers said voters are heading to campus polling stations at a steady trickle today and that they expect larger waves of students to turn out in the afternoon and evening.
“Well, 8 a.m. whatever isn’t the time you’ll see students crowding into the polling stations,” Patrick Nagle told the Independent this morning. Nagle’s an organizer for the non-partisan Public Interest Research Group’s New Voters Project, which has mobilized young voters around the country for more than two decades.
A release put out by the group today reported the campaign this year has operated ground and online operations at 75 campuses in 17 states. Nagle said he came to swing-state Colorado after working in swing-state North Carolina this summer.
“We think student voters will play a major role in determining how the election goes in Colorado, and we’re psyched about that,” he said. “I think candidates will see they have to take student issues more seriously.”
Nagle said that the more typical or general “youth issues” — like clean energy and abortion rights and gay equality — seem less motivating this year than issues more directly tied to student finances.
“Student loan interest rates are a big deal, especially with the kerfuffle in Congress over whether or not to raise them. That got student’s attention. Also, just the cost of higher education, for everyone, and the ability to get a job to pay it off when you graduate.”
The President and congressional leaders went back and forth in July over whether or not to extend low student loan rates. The President championed the extension as a worthy investment. Republicans hesitated to extend the rates without securing deficit-reduction offsets. Most estimates suggested the extension saved roughly 7.5 million students from paying about $1000 per year more on their loans.
Nagle agreed with other volunteers who spoke with the Independent that on Friday, the last day of early voting in Colorado, students had turned out to vote in large numbers. It was a noticeable increase in activity, they said.
“A lot of students are first-time voters. That’s important to know,” said Nagle. “It takes a little more elbow grease to get them to vote. You have to introduce them to the process. It takes a little more time. ‘Here’s how you register.’ ‘Here’s where your polling place is.’
“Older campaign staffers… I guess, they don’t always know that you have to meet the students where they’re at. You have to make it fun. Like, we try to tie voting to school pride, you know?”
Democratic campaigns here, like many across the nation, have adopted the strategy that sent Michael Bennet back to the U.S. Senate from Colorado in 2010. Democrat Bennet won over women, minorities and youth voters in large percentages to squeak into office during the Tea Party wave election. Bennet came to the campus Memorial Center here on Election Day that year and pleaded with students from the top of a table in the middle of the room.
“I’m Sen. Michael Bennet. It’s Election Day. If you haven’t voted yet, I am begging you, take a moment please and vote,” he said. “The choice for Senate today is clear. It’s a choice between someone who has been a proponent of expanded educational opportunity for years and someone who says the Founding Fathers didn’t believe in student loans.
“I am begging you. If you vote, we will win. If you don’t, we will lose. It’s really that close.”
Today, another get-out-the-vote volunteer, who preferred not to be identified, told the Independent she was also a PIRG volunteer in 2008 and that, in fact, student energy this year seemed less remarkable than the energy coming off of the older people she has contacted.
“At doors in Colorado, it’s the old people who are intent to vote this year. They’re the ones I’ve met [who have] intensity. They’re pretty majorly concerned about Medicare and Social Security and…. I guess I can just say that they’re not voting for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.”
She added that she’s mostly been knocking doors in Boulder County, a Democratic stronghold in the state.
Election Day in Colorado this year is a banner Rocky Mountain kind of day, the air crisp with the hint of the snow predicted to arrive in the high country this evening.
Students exiting the polling place here joked about what they called the “Democratic sky” hanging over the campus, a cloudless video-screen blue stretched from horizon to horizon.
[Photo of PIRG staffer Patrick Nagle and the “Democratic sky” over CU Boulder by TCI. ]