In the final stretch of a hotly contested presidential election, the Yale College Democrats traveled to Pennsylvania over the fall break to campaign for President Barack Obama.
Nearly 40 Yale students made the trip to Philadelphia on Thursday to canvass for the President in one of the states most crucial to his re-election strategy. Hosted by members of the University of Pennsylvania Democrats for their three-night stay, the Yale Dems called voters and knocked on doors in two counties outside Philadelphia and reminded them to turn out on Election Day.
Zak Newman ’13, president of the Dems, said the group began discussions in July for a fall break trip to a swing state, since the break was scheduled close to Election Day.
“We knew early on this election season that Pennsylvania was going to be an important state for the President,” said Nicole Hobbs ’14, the Dems’ elections coordinator and a trip organizer. “The Philadelphia area is crucial in this election, and the fact that it was logistically possible to go there and make a difference was a huge impetus in planning this trip.”
Throughout the summer and into the fall, Obama has maintained a consistent lead of roughly 4 to 6 percentage points in polls against Republican challenger Mitt Romney in Pennsylvania. University of Pennsylvania Democrats President Andrew Brown said new voter registration rules may be making the race tighter than polls show.
In March, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a law requiring voters to produce photo identification before casting their votes. The law was widely criticized as an attempt to prevent Democratic-leaning voters from going to the polls, as the people who would be disenfranchised by it — those who could not easily reach a DMV or pay for ID cards — tend to support the president.
On Oct. 2, the state Supreme Court issued an injunction against the law, preventing it from taking effect until after the Nov. 6 election. Still, Brown said confusion surrounding the law will likely prevent many voters without proper identification from casting ballots.
On Thursday afternoon, the Yale and Penn Dems kicked off their weekend of volunteering by calling voters to inform them that they could go to the polls even if they did not possess photo IDs.
“I talk anecdotally about the people who will be disenfranchised [by the law] having never had a real conversation with one of these people, and here I was on Thursday talking to 92-year-old women who couldn’t find their marriage certificates from 1960 and can’t easily make it to the DMV, but who still deserved to vote,” Newman said.
On Friday and Saturday, the group traveled to Media and Bristol, suburbs outside of Philadelphia that are nestled in some of the state’s most competitive counties. They spent two days knocking on doors, attempting to persuade undecided voters and asking supporters to sign “commit to vote” cards.
According to research done by Yale political science professor Alan Gerber, in-person canvassing is the single most effective strategy employed by political campaigns, as the face-to-face contact lingers longer in voters’ minds than TV ads or flyers.
But for Eric Fein ’16, canvassing holds just as much benefit for the volunteers knocking on doors.
“When I’ve been canvassing in New Haven, one of the things we ask is what issues are important to [the residents], and you get to hear about what the problems are in the New Haven community — so I remember how hard it is for people to find jobs, how hard it is for kids to find safe places to go after school,” Fein said.
Maddie Vahey ’15, one of the out-of-state canvassing captains for the Dems, explained that she canvasses nearly every weekend because she feels guilty for not having taken a semester off to work on the president’s campaign. She added that she considers canvassing an essential college pastime.
“You always hear of stories of aunts and uncles and parents who remember when they were canvassing for so-and-so in college, and I want to make sure I have those memories,” she said.
But the Dems did not travel to Pennsylvania only to volunteer. After their first day of canvassing, the Penn Dems invited the Yale Dems to a party complete with politically-inspired cocktails, including the “Clinton Cooler,” the “Obamba” and the “Debbie Wasserman Schultz.”
“I think it was a big success and a partnership that we can expand on in the future,” Penn Dems President Brown said. “Pennsylvania is really becoming more of a swing state, and we can really use the support of groups like the Yale Democrats.”
The U.S. presidential election will take place on Nov. 6.