Voter canvassing at University of Wisconsin isn’t about just knocking on doors anymore. People in dinosaur suits, therapy dogs and even bouncy houses are not uncommon occurrences.
Joe Waldman, regional organizing director for NextGen America’s UW chapter, said unconventional methods are all part of a larger, eye-catching campaign strategy.
“We’re trying to grab people’s attention and then from there, begin a larger conversation that ends in folks turning out to vote and knowing how to exercise the political power that they have around the issues that they’re passionate about,” Waldman said.
NextGen believes young voter turnout is “critical to progressive victories,” so the group has attempted to energize the youth voted. The organization has made an initial investment of $2.5 million into Wisconsin campaigning efforts, NextGen state media manager Sean Manning said.
Nationally, NextGen America has invested $33 million across 400 campuses in 11 states. Manning said NextGen believes this represents the largest youth vote organizing effort in American history.
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Sam Schwab, press secretary of UW College Democrats, said much of the voting urgency has come from the “Trump effect,” whereby many people who are outraged by the actions of President Donald Trump have become energized and engaged.
Young people have already show that they have the passion, energy and enthusiasm, Waldman said. NextGen’s job is to make sure that young people have the tools and information necessary to channel that energy into voting.
“We’ve been marching in the streets and protesting, but we need to make sure that translates into political power and we go out and vote,” Waldman said. “That’s what we’re working on.”
Ryan Christens, UW College Republicans outreach director, said his group had also been active in encouraging the conservative vote because of the considerable implications of the 2018 elections.
College Republicans has hosted numerous guest speakers, canvassing opportunities and social events to energize its members.
“The state of Wisconsin and the country are in historic economic conditions,” Christens said. “Wisconsin cannot afford to go backwards with Democrats.”
UW has also played a significant role in encouraging students to get out and vote. UW has been participating in the Big 10 Voting Challenge, a competition between Big 10 schools to encourage high voter turnout. The number of early voting locations on campus has increased this election from one to three, after a court battle between Republican incumbent Attorney General Brad Schimel and Democratic challenger Josh Kaul.
Schwab said constant political exposure can be exhausting and it can be easy to start experiencing election fatigue, so keeping events fun and unique has been an important solution. College Democrats have hosted pumpkin painting events, field office sleepovers and pancake cookouts.
Waldman echoed this sentiment. He said NextGen’s goal is to make sure people are excited and comfortable engaging in the political process.
“Our goal really is to cut through the noise,” Waldman said. “We do that by finding unique and interesting ways to engage with people.”
While Schwab said College Democrats and NextGen share a lot of common interests, he did say NextGen was less student-oriented than College Democrats or Young Progressives.
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Schwab brought up the fact that NextGen was started by billionaire Tom Steyer.
“We have a lot in common with Tom Steyer’s views, but also a big thing for us is that we don’t want candidates to take PAC money [or] corporate money,” Schwab said. “Our whole thing is that we want to be grassroots and we want to be independent. I personally see NextGen as this west coast organization. I’m not dissing them or anything like that, but they are a little bit less grassroots than we would ideally prefer.”
But Schwab said College Democrats might be interested in working alongside NextGen after the election, possibly in legislative advocacy.
For the time being, NextGen is “laser-focused” on the midterm elections, but they plan to continue to be a presence on campus afterward, Manning said.
“Ultimately, we want to continue to train the next generation of civic leaders and continue to work towards building a state and nation that provides equal opportunity and justice for each and every one of us,” Manning said.