By Kirk Clay
Will Voters of Color Do It Again In 2013?
The potential historic victory of Cory Booker as a nominee for the U.S. Senate is a cause for celebration. At this hopeful moment we must remember our core objective –transform voter energy into a vehicle that changes the political balance of power. This can only happen if following Election Day we unite and continue to catalyze this emerging new majority coalition.
As PAC+ begins the final stretch of this primary election, we must continue encouraging New Jersey’s multiracial new majority to engage in the electoral process. We must stay committed to advancing our mission of expanding the electorate to include voters who remain on the political margins of our society.
This expansion will be accomplished by enhancing and broadening key components of our efforts — combining traditional civic engagement programs with 21st century demographic data and civic engagement technology.
The technology, strategy and staff put in place gives us the capacity to carry out a plan to train, educate, and mobilize a significant number of voters of color (VOC) in the primary. As a result, PAC+ is now in a position to help elect Cory Booker.
For PAC+ this epic moment presents both a historic opportunity as well as a significant responsibility. Created to build a voter program that is driven by New Jersey’s changing demographics, we felt compelled to make this chance for New Jersey to elect its first African American U.S. Senator our marque effort for 2013.
I remember when we first started this journey in 2011. I remember how challenging it was to excite New Jersey civic engagement organizations about demographic politics — something that is going to happen in the future but already impacting the political landscape. We started with a poll, evidence based data, and a voter file. After two years of hard work, election votes will be calculated and results evaluated.
It was like a roller coaster ride. By mid-June it appeared that there would be a turnout problem in eight New Jersey counties with historically low VOC turnout rates. According to internal data the counties of Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Middlesex, Passaic, and Salem were in danger of suffering low midsummer turnout rates.
For example, in Atlantic only 7,572 votes were cast in this year’s Democrat gubernatorial primary. Then Bergen, peculiar for north New Jersey, reported just 14,036 votes – far lower than the 16,197 from 2005. In Gloucester only 5,613 residents voted – almost 1,000 less than in 2005. In Middlesex we saw a 4,991 vote drop from 2005. All of those counties had turnout rates considerably better in 2005.
The numbers in Atlantic County were especially troubling because both the Democrat and Republican campaigns had spent a considerable amount of time engaging Jersey shore voters who were impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Clearly the multiple issues related to recovering from a disaster were a factor in the decreased effectiveness of conventional voter contact programs.
What very few realized is that Atlantic also underwent a political geographical transformation as well. In 2010, the county’s population increased by 8% with 16,000 inactive voters and 56,000 unregistered residents. Moreover voters of color make up 39% of the population.
In a few days, we will see the true value of an organized VOC electorate during a low turnout election. Recognizing the power that VOC have in pushing their candidate to the top, PAC+ was determined to follow the advice of Yale professor Don Green: “personal contact by a trusted messenger is the gold standard.”
Unlike most political organizations, PAC+ did not neglect this core principle in its efforts to reach VOC. It’s reflected in everything from our data collection strategies to cross-platform civic engagement and was utilized to strategically micro-target voters of color.
The power of this moment is the narrative which describes what most political experts know is true –if we strategically register, educate, and turnout VOC we can not only flip the outcomes of their specific neighborhoods and districts, but have major impact in deciding the next Mayor, U.S. Congressman, U.S. Senator and Governor.
Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPAC