Young voters focus of $30M effort by Dems

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democrats know who their voters are. They just have to figure out how to get them to the polls in November — and that’s where the puppies come in.

Students returning to the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus this summer were greeted by therapy dogs for petting. Those lured by the chance to ruffle a dog’s ears were then asked to register to vote — a “Pups to the Polls” gimmick that was just one of several similar events being staged in 11 battleground states by the liberal group NextGen America.

Young people tend to vote for Democrats, but they also tend stay away during midterm elections. It’s a perennial frustration for the party — one they are trying to overcome as they seek to take control of Congress.

NextGen America, formed by billionaire activist Tom Steyer, hopes to be a game changer. Steyer is investing more than $30 million in what’s believed to be the largest voter engagement effort of its kind in U.S. history.

The push to register and get pledges from college students to vote is focusing on states such as Wisconsin, Virginia, California and North Carolina with competitive races for Congress, U.S. Senate and other offices.

NextGen sees young voters such as Kellen Sharp as key to flipping targeted seats from red to blue.

“The outcome of this election definitely affects us,” said Sharp, an 18-year-old freshman from Milwaukee who stopped to register during the dog event the week before classes started.

A poll this summer by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MTV found most Americans ages 15 to 34 think voting in the midterm elections gives their generation some say about how the government is run. The poll found young people eager to vote for someone who shared their political views on issues such as health care and immigration policy. They expressed far less excitement about voting for a candidate described as a lifelong politician.

“We want them to know they need to show up and when they do, we will win,” said NextGen’s Wisconsin director George Olufosoye. “We want them to know they have power.”

They certainly have the numbers.

Since the last midterm election in 2014, 15 million post-millennials — those between the ages of 18 and 21 — have become eligible to vote. But while Generation X, millennials and post-millennials make up the majority of voting-eligible adults nationwide, they are not expected to cast the most votes in November.

In the 2014 midterm, they cast 21 million fewer votes than voters older than age 54, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center. Turnout among 18- to 24-year-olds hit a 40-year low in 2014, bottoming out at 17.1 percent, according to an analysis by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or CIRCLE, at Tufts University.

NextGen points to higher voter turnout on the University of Wisconsin campus for a spring state Supreme Court election won by a liberal, and spikes in turnout in other targeted races, to argue their push to register 122,000 young people to vote is bearing fruit.

“We’re trying really hard to have this be much more of an infrastructure, organizational thing than a two-month campaign,” NextGen founder Tom Steyer said in an interview.

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