The Savvy Way Leaders Like Kamala Harris Are Appealing To Young Americans

Last month, she hosted student leaders to talk about reproductive rights.

While many candidates are eyeing the youth vote turnout, Vice President Kamala Harris hosted student...
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In mid-October, Vice President Kamala Harris hosted 75 student leaders at the White House for a conversation on reproductive rights and health care access. The young adults, who hailed from colleges and universities in 33 states, discussed the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and its implications.

“The whole campus community is frustrated, because abortion rights continue to be in legal limbo,” said Patrick Robles, student body president at the University of Arizona.

Since June, many GOP-controlled state legislatures and attorneys general in states including Arizona have sought to enforce pre-Roe laws prohibiting abortion — often facing legal blowback. In Arizona, an 1864 ban was on the books, and shortly after Roe was overturned, Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich said the procedure would be illegal in the state. (Whether or not that’s true has been punted from court to court as physicians and health care leaders sue.)

Vice President Harris encouraged the students to push back. “There’s a movement that was started by folks generations before us that led to Roe v. Wade about half a century ago,” she said. “It is now incumbent on us to pick up that movement.”

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Democrats are hoping that young Americans will pick up that movement through their actions at the ballot box on Tuesday, especially since these voters tend to favor Democratic control of Congress. On the campaign trail, many politicians have been making concerted efforts to court them as part of a midterm strategy to retain control of Congress. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, for example, is rallying young voters in cities across the country with the youth-focused NextGen America and MoveOn. In October, President Joe Biden hosted TikTok stars at the White House. And Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke joined a Twitch livestream with the group Gen Z for Change.

Focusing on reproductive rights is a strategic starting point. A recent Ms. magazine and Feminist Majority Foundation poll conducted by Lake Research Partners found that abortion and women’s rights are the top issues for young women voters ages 18-29 in battleground states, where 55% of young women voters listed abortion and women’s rights as a priority issue ahead of the midterms.

Other studies have reported similar results: In a fall poll released by Voters of Tomorrow, a Gen Z-led voter engagement organization, young Americans listed abortion as the top issue influencing their vote. And just last week, a Harvard Institute of Politics poll found that abortion is one of the top issues for Democrats ages 18-29, in addition to democracy, inflation, and climate change.

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This passion was laid bare at the White House that day, as other students highlighted the links between reproductive health care, First Amendment rights, and LGBTQ+ rights, as well as the overall confusion the Dobbs decision has created on U.S. campuses. “Ohio had a bunch of trigger bans that immediately went into effect,” said Soumya Jaiswal, the president of Planned Parenthood’s Generation Action at the University of Cincinnati. “These decisions were being flip-flopped so quickly and in such a purposefully confusing manner that students were really unsure about what their actual reproductive rights were.”

“When I’m talking about this with my friends and peers, the conversation [is] heavy,” said Ashley Paine, who serves in a similar role at the University of Idaho, where a 2021 law prohibits state employees from promoting information about abortion access or birth control.

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Courtesy of the White House
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If young voters are convinced by Democratic messages, it could have an outsized effect. Experts like Tom Bonier, a veteran strategist and CEO of TargetSmart, have emphasized that high youth turnout could help Democrats claim a majority in the House. (Americans ages 18-29 were key to Democratic victories in 2020.) He tracked a surge in young voter registration following the Dobbs decision, and told The Up and Up that, similar to how the tragic Parkland school shooting was a motivator in 2018, the overturning of Roe could be too.

Recently, GOP candidates have been focusing on the economy and inflation, which young Republicans have stressed as top concerns. Whether or not that voting bloc shows up is another question heading into Election Day.

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As early vote numbers trickle in, Bonier has noted that in some key states, the early youth vote is lower than it was at this point in 2020, although that isn’t entirely unexpected. As he told The Up and Up, “the early vote will only be somewhat indicative of the youth vote, because I think younger voters are going to be less likely to be voting by mail or voting early than older voters, who tend to prefer that method.”

In the meantime, organizations like Voters of Tomorrow are zeroing in on mobilization efforts this weekend. “We have been working toward Tuesday for a long time,” spokesperson Jack Lobel told Bustle, “which is both the reason why we are confident in our chances and incredibly devoted to getting our final push right.”