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Penn State Prepares to “Get Out The Vote”

With less than a week until the 2012 Presidential Election, the Romney and Obama campaigns are kicking into high gear. And nowhere is that more apparent than in State College.

This should be no surprise, considering Centre County is one of the most crucial swing counties in a crucial swing state for both campaigns. In 2008, Barack Obama won Pennsylvania with a solid 10% margin, thanks mostly to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and the surrounding suburban counties. Centre County was a bright blue dot in a sea of red, leaning towards Obama by 11%.

In the 2010 Midterm Election however, Republicans came out in force, winning the governorship and taking control of both chambers of the State Legislature. Centre County leaned Republican in both the Senate and Governor races. With recent polls giving President Obama a slight edge in Pennsylvania, neither campaign is giving any ground.

We are at a pivotal moment in the Presidential campaign. Since new voter registration ended a few weeks ago, campaigns are shifting their focus from convincing undecided voters to increasing turnout of likely voters. Get Out The Vote is an organized last-minute push to maximize voter turnout.

On-campus organizations like Students For Barack Obama have streamlined plans for Get Out The Vote, which officially starts Saturday, November 3rd and runs through Election Day on November 6th. The old model of cookie-cutter robo-calls and door hangers has been thrown out the window. Modern grassroots campaigns, perfectly exemplified by then-Senator Obama’s 2008 campaign, pinpoint possible voters. And that’s not just general constituencies — they actually know one-by-one who will likely vote for Obama, and they know how to get those voters to the polls.

Get Out The Vote strategies include personalized phone calls, “Commit To Vote” cards, fancy new door stickers (which will replace the old, ugly door hangers), and good old-fashioned door-to-door canvassing. The goal is to get every potential voter to know exactly where and when to vote. Research shows that just talking to a potential voter about their plans for Election Day increases that voter’s likelihood of voting by about 4%, while asking the voter “Can we count on your vote?” increases their likelihood of voting by about 2%. In all cases, a personal conversation is much more effective in increasing turnout than a generalized robo-call or email.

As we inch toward Election Day, expect to see a lot more activity on- and off-campus. Penn State’s Students For Barack Obama, partnered with the College Democrats, have high expectations — recruiting volunteers for canvassing and phone bank shifts to fill the narrow 4-day window before the election.

On the other side of the aisle, the College Republicans have big plans as well, hoping to match the Democrats’ efforts in door-to-door canvassing and phone-banking. Texas Governor Rick Perry will make an appearance in State College on Saturday for a meet and greet with Republican Senate candidate Tom Smith.

While Election Day may still seem far away for some, student organizations are ramping up their efforts in anticipation of Get Out The Vote drives. And don’t expect them to slow down before November 6th.

See you at the polls.

About the Author

Zack Rutstein

Penn State 5th-year Materials Science and Engineering student, Onward State Arts Editor, Musician


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