Three political strategists joined the Harvard Institute of Politics’s director of polling John Della Volpe on Thursday to virtually discuss the impact of youth voters in the 2020 elections as well as the upcoming Senate runoff races in Georgia at this semester’s final John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum.
Della Volpe, who also advised on youth engagement for Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign, posed questions to the panelists, who included Ashley Allison, the Biden campaign’s national coalitions director; Peter D. Hamby, the host of Snapchat’s Good Luck America; and Nsé Ufot, who serves as CEO of the New Georgia Project, an organization dedicated to increasing voter turnout in the state.
Ufot said a surge in political organizing helped turn Georgia blue in the 2020 presidential election.
“I would say that the demographic shift that we’re seeing in Georgia is the fire, but organizing has been the accelerant,” she said. “It is the demographic shifts, for sure, but it is the sustained, sophisticated, long-term, multiple cycle organizing effort that is designed to harness the power that is coming out of that demographic shift and turn it into real policy and political changes.”
Statewide efforts in Georgia to mobilize young people to become involved in politics led the state to achieve the nation’s highest jump in youth voter turnout from the 2016 to 2020 presidential election cycles.
In the 2020 presidential election, Georgia flipped Democratic for the first time since 1992 — an outcome largely credited to high voter turnout paired with demographic changes that favored non-white residents. As of the end of November, Georgia voters had requested more than 940,000 absentee ballots for the Senate runoff elections.
At the event, panelists looked ahead to January, when both of Georgia’s Senate seats will proceed to runoff elections. Democratic challengers T. Jonathan “Jon” Ossoff and Raphael G. Warnock will vie against incumbent Senators David A. Perdue Jr. (R-Ga.) and Kelly L. Loeffler (R-Ga.), respectively, in an election that will determine which political party will secure control of the Senate.
Allison, who worked on the Biden campaign, said Democrats should invest in grassroots organizing to clinch Georgia’s Senate races.
“I think we have to be careful in letting our motivation be rooted in a person, and our motivation is actually rooted in movements,” she said. “Regardless if we have the Senate, the White House, and the House, we still need to resource our local groups that are building the trust and community so that our movement, and our efforts, and our mobilization aren’t rooted on one person but in a real collective sense of power and self-ownership.”
Hamby shared ways to politically engage young people, who “don’t think politics works for them.”
“Among young voters, there’s low levels of social trust,” he said. “The ads that they found worked in their creative testing were ads that took something like the movement for Black Lives, it took something like climate change, and turned it into an affirmative message around voting.”
—Staff writer Sixiao Yu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.