With time running out before Election Day, politically active Elis are gearing up for one last weekend push.
Democratic and Republican political groups on campus are coordinating their efforts to get out the vote in key battleground states on Tuesday, sending hundreds of volunteers on the road and making thousands of calls to voters nationwide over the next three days. And on a campus where four in five students said in a News poll this week that they support Sen. Barack Obama, it is the Democratic nominee who will be the beneficiary of the bulk of their efforts.
The last-minute surge comes as Obama clings to a statistically significant lead over the Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, according to many national polls. But campus Democrats say they will continue to campaign at full force until Tuesday regardless of how rosy the electoral picture may appear.
“Polls don’t mean anything if people don’t turn out to vote,” said Ben Shaffer ’09, president of the Yale College Democrats. “I think if everyone across the country goes out and votes, I don’t think we’re losing this election. That’s a pretty big ‘if.’ So you have to fight until the end.”
With time running out, both college Democrats and Republicans emphasized the importance of the next 72 hours. Organizers called this period the most important time of the entire election; Shaffer and Yale for Obama co-director Ben Lazarus ’10 said they have been planning for this weekend since September.
“We’ve been canvassing the whole semester,” Lazarus said. “But election weekend is the time we can make the biggest influence with getting out the vote.”
Yale College Republicans President Matt Klein ’09 was just as enthused as his Democratic counterparts, though he said his organization has not organized campaign efforts for McCain this weekend. Members of Yale for McCain — a student group devoted to electing the Republican nominee — did not respond to repeated requests for comment Thursday, though Klein said the Republican National Committee is providing transportation to send around 10 students to New Hampshire to canvass for the Republican nominee.
The College Democrats have learned the danger of complacency and overconfidence from the razor-thin defeat of Sen. John Kerry ’66 in 2004, said former group president Brendan Gants ’08. That year, Gants explained, the two Democratic student groups involved in the election — the College Democrats and Bush Busters — did not coordinate their efforts to support Kerry.
“I heard that both groups sent canvassers to the same city in Pennsylvania and neither knew about it,” Gants said.
This year, Democratic student groups have coalesced around the organization “Yale for Change,” which is supporting Obama’s campaign. Over the next two days, Yale for Change organizers say they anticipate nearly 140 students will volunteer to canvass and make phone calls. The total number of volunteers is up nearly 50 percent from the weekend before election Day 2004, said Alissa Stolwerk ’06, a former secretary of the College Democrats.
Organizers say the volunteers, about a third of whom are campaigning this weekend for the first time, will allow for a last-minute surge of campaigning. Over 100 students will travel to swing states New Hampshire and Pennsylvania to go door-to-door for the campaign, arriving there Saturday and canvassing throughout the day.
And although the majority of volunteers said they plan to return to campus by Sunday afternoon, Shaffer said some plan to stay on the ground through Election Day. On campus, Shaffer said Yale for Change is doing at least 10 hours of phone banking per day from Nov. 2 through Nov. 4.
In addition, the organization is sending about 20 students to Bridgeport in support of Democratic congressional candidate Jim Himes, who is currently locked in a tight race against Rep. Chris Shays in Connecticut’s Fourth District. The Yale College Republicans, too, are focusing on the Fourth District. Student volunteers will phone-bank for Shays this weekend, Klein said
But their decision not to organize campaigning on behalf of the Republican nominee is a break from tradition, at least compared to the last presidential election. On the last weekend before the election in 2004, the Yale College Republicans ran a phone bank to support the ultimately successful re-election campaign of President George W. Bush ’68.
“We’re organizing every able-bodied Republican to get out and call people in the swing states,” Al Jiwa ’06, then-president of the Yale College Republicans, said at the time.
But on this campus, able-bodied Republicans are few and far between. If Yale had electoral votes, the campus would be solid blue: In a News poll of undergraduates conducted Sunday through Tuesday, 81 percent of respondents supported Obama, while only 12 percent backed McCain.
And while the national polls are not that definitive — a CBS News/New York Times poll released Thursday showed Obama leading McCain among likely voters by 11 percentage points — Klein acknowledged McCain faces an uphill battle to win the White House.
“We’re definitely the underdogs, but there’s opportunity for a positive surprise,” Klein said. “At the end of the day, I think it’s going to be a toss-up.”