Who holds more sway on N.H. Election Day, young or senior voters?

  • A NextGen America volunteer speaks to students at Plymouth State College. Paul Steinhauser / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Published: 11/3/2018 11:40:21 PM

For Teddy Smyth, it’s simple.

“Young people are mad. Young people are hurting,” Smyth explained. “We see voting and showing up to vote as the way we can replace at least some of our leaders this year, replace Donald Trump in 2020 and begin to make things a little bit better for everyone.”

Smyth, 25, is the New Hampshire youth director for NextGen America, the progressive group founded and funded by the billionaire environmental and political activist Tom Steyer, who’s immediate mission is to motivate younger Americans to vote on Election Day on Tuesday.

Statistically speaking, younger voters often sit out the midterms, meaning the complexion of the electorate is typically a little older, whiter, with fewer single women than in presidential election years. The numbers from the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s office tell the story: only 20 percent of voters age 18-29 in the Granite State voted in the 2014 midterms. That percentage jumped to 55 percent in the 2016 presidential election.

But thanks in part to their anger with Republican President Donald Trump, younger voters appear energized this time around.

“We are doing every single thing that we can to promote the engagement and participation of people under 35 because we believe unless they participate, we don’t have a representative democracy,” Steyer recently told the Monitor.

Smyth said his staff has been visiting college campuses to rally young voters.

“We have over 18,000 young people pledged to vote around this state, and young people make up the blue wave and young people are going to turn out to vote in this midterm election like we’ve never seen before,” Smyth said.

Those numbers seem to favor Democrats, but there’s another number that Republicans like to point out.

Granite Staters over age 50 make up the largest percentage of the electorate, and that age group tends to lean a little to the right.

Even so, Republicans are making their own push for the youth vote.

“While the left has a number of outside groups and out-of-state donors supporting their efforts to energize young people, New Hampshire Republicans have something better: results,” New Hampshire Young Republicans chairman Joe Sweeney said. “Under Gov. Sununu, the youngest governor in the nation, Granite Staters are looking forward to young leadership.”

Youth turnout

Smyth’s group, NextGen America, currently has 37 staffers and more than 800 volunteers in the state. By Election Day it will have spent $1 million in New Hampshire to turn out younger voters.

“Asking young people to pledge to vote has been one of our main tactics,” Smyth explained. “If somebody signs a card and says ‘I’m good for it,’ and then we remind them, text them, call them, and serve them Facebook ads, they actually turn out to vote.”

The group will stay busy through Election Day.

“We’re going to be talking with folks about making a plan to vote and getting it in people’s calendars so that on Election Day they show up at our staging location, they hop a ride and they vote,” Smyth said.

Younger voters may have made the difference in 2016, helping former Democratic governor Maggie Hassan narrowly top former Republican senator Kelly Ayotte by just over 1,000 votes in the U.S. Senate race, and help Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton edge out GOP nominee Donald Trump for the state’s four electoral votes. Turnout in Durham, home to the University of New Hampshire’s main campus, increased by more than 2,000 votes.

Democrats point to September’s state primary as proof of their energy. A record 126,474 people cast ballots in the Democratic primary, up from just 43,359 in the 2014 midterm primary.

Compare that to the 100,590 who voted in this year’s GOP primary, down from 121,454 Republican ballots cast in 2014.

Smyth predicted an even more impressive turnout of young voters in the general election, pointing out that by the Sept. 11 primary “school was in session for about three weeks, and now school’s been in session all fall.”

Voting rights

NextGen is far from the only national organization on the left that’s working to turn out the youth vote in New Hampshire. Let America Vote, the voting rights group founded by former Missouri secretary of state Jason Kander, has a strong presence in the state. Turning Point USA, the New Hampshire Youth Movement and Save the Children are also working towards the same goal.

The state also has one of the most organized and successful Young Democrats organizations in the country. N.H. Young Democrats president Lucas Meyer said his group, along with the state Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign, has been hard at work on voter cards and voter education and will provide transportation and election monitoring next week. He also touted that there are more than 50 Young Democrats on the ballot, which he said was the most in four decades.

Young Republicans chairman Sweeney isn’t far behind and said they are doing it without outside money.

“With 47 young Republican candidates on the ballot this November, the most in our organization’s history, we are running a true grassroots campaign in the Granite State to organize our voters,” Sweeney said.

Voting rights is an issue that Democrats hope to capitalize on. The Republican-dominated state Legislature passed two voter eligibility laws and both were signed into law by Sununu. Democrats say the measures amount to voter suppression because they are aimed at lowering the percentage of out-of-state students attending New Hampshire colleges and universities who vote in the state on Election Day.

Last weekend, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, one of the party’s rising stars and a potential 2020 presidential contender, headlined get-out-the-vote rallies at UNH in Durham and Dartmouth College in Hanover.

“At this moment in America, will you stand up for voting rights?” Booker urged the crowd mostly made up of students.

Big block

While the battle for young voters attracts a lot of attention, the numbers show that older voters remain the largest voting block.

Granite Staters over age 50 make up 54 percent of the electorate, according to the latest figures of New Hampshire’s registered voters.

“Historically 50-plus voters have been a determining vote and I suspect we’ll see the same in this election,” AARP-New Hampshire state director Todd Fahey told the Monitor.

Fahey said the non-partisan national organization has a campaign called “Be the Difference. Vote!” which is an appeal to those 50 or older to vote.

“We have a very big push on that issue and we have been relentless about it not only online but in the media as well,” Fahey said.

In 2016, there were 382,606 voters in New Hampshire over 50 who turned out to vote. That was an increase of more than 40,000 from the 2014 midterms.

“We don’t tell people how to vote. We urge them to be educated on issues that matter to them,” Fahey said. “For us, they’re big ones: Medicare, social security, prescription drugs, caregiving and Medicaid.”

And Fahey said he’s been pleased that those issues have been emphasized by the candidates and campaigns, and have been spotlighted in the debates.

“They are extremely important, regardless of people’s political persuasion. They’re bedrock issues certainly for the 50-plus,” he added. “The great majority of the population in New Hampshire either rely on those programs or will at some point.”

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