Posted Oct 7, 2020, 11:56 am
Activists who believe young voters in Arizona have the
power to swing the state are working to mobilize this often inconsistent
and underrepresented group by engaging with them across all platforms –
including Bumble and Tinder.
Roughly 35% of eligible Arizonans
did not vote in 2016, spurring advocacy groups on both sides to
galvanize young voters in the Black and Latino communities, who account
for about one-third of the state’s population of 7.3 million.
“The focus on younger demographics – all across the country, but
(especially) in Arizona – have certainly been sort of a unicorn,” said
Garrett Archer, a former data analyst with the Secretary of State’s
Office who now works for KNXV-TV (ABC15). “In many ways, Democrats need
increased turnout in this group in order to have any chances in
In particular, the state has magnetized progressives determined to
turn Arizona away from its more recent Republican leanings. Arizona’s purple turnout
in the 2018 midterm election, which resulted in the state’s first
elected Democratic senator since 1988, showed the potential for a
Democratic presidential win for the first time in Arizona since Bill
Clinton in 1996. Progressive and conservative voting groups are moving
to harness inconsistent voters – those who are historically
unpredictable in whether they turn out at the polls – but often vote blue if they do, according to studies and politics experts.
“Republican voters are much more likely to be habitual voters.
Minority voters and young voters tend to be more liberal, tend to be
more Democratic, but they also tend to not vote in every election,” said
Kim Fridkin, a foundation professor of political science at Arizona
State University who studies campaigns and elections.
Conservative voting outreach groups also work to appeal to
communities of color in Arizona, but Fridkin said Democrats are more
likely to target Latino, Black and young voters.
President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, are in a tight race to win Arizona, often trading places in polls for the top spot. The Republican Party of Arizona
and other conservative groups still are working to mobilize new
Republican voters, and the president has visited Arizona several times
this year, including a mid-September Latinos for Trump event. His daughter, Ivanka Trump, and other administration officials also have traveled to the state.
Both parties still are using traditional campaign methods, such as
in-person and door-to-door canvassing, mass calls, advertising and
marketing on television and by mail.
The voting match game
In Arizona, progressives also plan to send 38,000 handwritten letters
and postcards as part of a national strategy, and they’re moving past
mainstream social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, into
dating apps like Tinder, Bumble and Hinge.
“I think there’s more strategy involved with young voters now than
there was before – of wanting to make this change and maybe not seeing
voting as the optimal option but seeing it as a tool,” said Lexy Reyelts
an organizer with NextGen Arizona, a national progressive voting group with a presence in Phoenix.
The conversation starts on social media, seeking out “people of
color, trans, queer people, poor people, you know, all the people who
are in the margins, often, who might not have a candidate,” Reyelts
Reyelts, 23, began volunteering with NextGen in 2016, the
first presidential election in which she could vote. She said Trump’s
surprise victory helped drive fellow Latino Gen Z voters to the polls
for the midterm in 2018, and it will again in November.
But organizers determined other get-out-the-vote strategies were
necessary in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial justice
movements that have shaken the institutional foundations of America.
For NextGen Arizona, getting out the word meant dating apps.
“We’re on Bumble, Tinder and Hinge,” said Kristi Johnston, the press secretary for NextGen Arizona.
Volunteers for voting campaigns nationwide – Democratic, Republican
and other parties – often spend much of their shift participating in a
practice called phone banking or text banking, using call lists to reach
voters in the area to spread their message and solicit voter
But on Fridays, NextGen also reaches out on dating apps, Johnston
said, adding that many volunteers choose to continue doing so after
their designated shifts. Johnston said about 20 NextGen volunteers and
staffers send out continuous notifications to fellow local Millennial
and Gen Z users. If the volunteer receives a match, they will start a
conversation and eventually, share the group’s link to register to vote
or sign their online Pledge to Vote.
Johnston said NextGen volunteers identify their role with NextGen
Arizona in their profiles to establish transparency before starting a
conversation. Collectively, hundreds of volunteers have volunteered time
to NextGen Arizona, and it is not uncommon for some events to see up to
1,000 volunteers, Johnston said.
“There’s certainly an overlap, that’s what makes for a lot of our
interesting stories,” Johnston said. “It can be sensitive when you’re
mixing your romantic life with getting people registered to vote.”
Will it work?
Republican and Democratic political parties are increasingly relying on social media to reach voters, even as some voters express exhaustion
at the constant messaging, according to a Pew Research Center study.
There is no way to know whether mass efforts like these work — at least
until the election happens – and even then, it may be difficult to trace
a win to specific campaign outreach.
Fridkin said to increase the chances of making a large impact with
voting registration goals, the best option is to channel efforts in one
place with a significant amount of traffic either online or in person.
“By and large, if it’s a non-traditional place where people don’t
want to be bothered with politics, they’re not going to pay attention to
it,” Fridkin said. “And I think in this election with 2020’s politics,
people are sick of it.”
Johnston attributed the success of the program to being tailored
directly to the demographic the group hopes to sway. It isn’t very
different from how they’ve grown up communicating in a “digital native”
culture, though due to social distancing and safety recommendations
surrounding COVID-19, this tactic is also necessary.
“We’re not getting that same face to face contact that we used to and
it’s different but it’s certainly advantageous,” Johnston said.
Written from the heart and driven to the polls
Like NextGen, the Progressive Turnout Project,
is looking beyond the traditional way of in-person canvassing to
connect with voters in its efforts to elect Joe Biden for president.
In recent months, the Progressive Turnout Project has adopted a
letter writing campaign where volunteers will hand-write messages to
inconsistent Democratic voters in Arizona, asking them to vote.
“A personal letter in the mail really hits home,” said Brianna
Westbrook, the Phoenix Metro field director. “It’s a unique way of
reaching out to voters because it’s a personal approach.”
Westbrook said the voters that the Progressive Turnout Project speaks
to in Arizona have an interest in political issues and the desire to
make a difference, but lack either the knowledge or resources to
participate in making a change.
“We’re talking to people that don’t turn out (in 2016). A lot of the
conversations we have are people that felt like the political system
left them behind or don’t know enough about voting,” Westbrook said.
Registration data in Arizona shows how votes are up for grabs. Total
registration shows Republicans slightly outpace Democrats, with nearly
equal third of registered voters remaining uncommitted to either party, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office.
“Donald Trump is such a political wildcard, in every sense of the word, that anything is possible,” Archer said.
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