The 45ers are a group of young people who recognise the importance of engaging in politics, and are committed to ensuring that politicians listen and respond to the voice of their generation.
We received over 300 applications for the programme, and all successful 45ers had to pass a rigorous application process. This included a written application, video interview and induction event; all designed to understand why the applicants consider political engagement of their peers to be so important. The final cohort are students, or recent graduates, from all areas of the UK from Aberdeen to Belfast, to Plymouth and to London.
The 45ers will learn how young people are canvassed during the course of the 2016 US Presidential Election, from being embedded within the campaigns and through a bespoke programme both in the UK and in the US. The 45ers will work with the Democratic and Republican campaigns, and experience a wide range of US politics from local engagement as part of the Iowa Caucus, through to fast paced campaigning in Ohio.
They’ll then bring this insight back to the UK and, at a major conference after the 45th US President has been elected, the 45ers will produce a set of recommendations to present to the national Uk political parties. These recommendations will set out what must be done in order to engage young people in the political and democratic process here in the UK.
The 45ers have shown an inspiring and genuine commitment to involving UK young people in politics. However, they’re tackling a big challenge and we can achieve so much more with your help. We’re looking to add to our cross party group of Champions who have endorsed and support 45 for the 45th and we’re also looking for further sponsors to ensure that the programme is a success.
The Office for National Statistics noted that less than one third of young people have an interest in politics. Almost one half of all 16-24 year olds said that they had no interest in politics at all. The 45-ers, and the 45forthe45th initiative want to change that.
Engaging young people in the political process is key, and we want to shake up how politics is done here in the UK in order to achieve this.
When everyone thinks of America, the standard image is always, New York or California with the fantasy lifestyle we have all learnt to love through movies or television, but my trip to America would be a very different experience. February 2016, I travelled to the United States as part of a group called 45 for the 45th. We were a group of individuals from various backgrounds who were aiming to increase voter participation in the UK especially amongst the Youth. In order to gain an understanding of how other political cultures are able to increase participation different groups of individuals were sent to the US in this vital election year.
We would be experiencing the primary stage of the elections, which last from January to June of the election year for each party to choose their leader. The first two states to vote in the Primary election were Iowa and New Hampshire with both parties using very different styles of voting. Our trip would begin in these two states exploring both the Caucus and Primary in order to promote youth participation in the UK.
The first state I travelled to was Iowa. Travelling with such a large group was always going to be difficult and in turn we were separated into different flights, which meant our arrival was staggered. I was travelling with a smaller group, which made it slightly easier all in all. After a really long flight due to the transit and long waiting times we finally made it to Minnesota. Obviously we went through some questionable immigration, where they were just not convinced that we were here just to observe. ‘Nobody can be that interested in politics to fly over the Atlantic for it.‘ After another small flight we made it to Des Moines.
First taste of Campaigning
Today was the first day of actual campaigning instead of travelling. For the first day we only had to be there for noon, which was perfect because travelling for a full day did take its toll. After a true American breakfast of Waffles and syrup we made our way to the campaign office. In Des Moines, the office itself was in one of the volunteer’s homes. We came in our big group of 30 and had a very friendly briefing from one of the younger volunteers. She immediately explained exactly what we would be doing, which was door-to-door campaigning. This was the first point where we found out that this would actually be individual and not in pairs. Obviously it was slightly daunting, baring in mind that we did not have phones for navigation or communication and had no local knowledge of the area. That aside we were very quick to start. Collected our ‘packets’, which contained leaflets, a list of addresses and names of voters in a certain area and made our way to the van. At this point, me and two others were dropped off in an isolated location and the van arranged a time and place to pick us up. We then split up and made our way to the houses.
I cannot describe how long each road was. Walking from house to another seemed like separate roads itself. The atmosphere as definitely different than what I was used to; with the lack of pedestrians, the whole place seemed eerily silent. The Caucus was happening the next day, so the purpose of campaigning was more to get people to actually attend the Caucus as the majority had already pledged the support for Hillary. The majority of the houses I went to were very supportive our why we were here and were very wiling to talk to us, as it was a Sunday most people were home and very chatty about their views. The main difference I observed at this point was how interested every member of the family was in the actual policies of the candidate.
The campaigning did not last too long that day because it was a Sunday and they did not want to disturb anyone. We were invited that night to attend a rally, which we were all, so excited about. This was the kind of event that was out of the normal for us Brits. When we arrived the queue was ridiculous, with the amount of volunteers and supporters increasing by the minute. This kind of support for any politician is unheard of in the UK, which was encouraging to see. Another element, which I had not been exposed to as much, was the amount of media coverage. There were TV crews from every major channel doing multiple interviews with the crowd.
The rally experience was exactly what you would imagine. The choreography of the whole event is exactly the same at every single rally. The score board displaying 45/ 45 for the 45th president, the DJ playing the current top 40, a dedicated crowd chanting with posters being handed out to the crowd. It was the same kind of energy in the crowd, as you would see from any sports game with so much dedication for Clinton. Another important element of the whole thing would be the merchandise: T-Shirts, badges, posters, hats, you name it, they had it.
We slowly saw the secret service enter from various corners and we knew that she was here; Hillary was definitely coming. Then on the screens in the sports hall they began playing a video about Hillary. I cannot describe how inspirational the video was, just explaining how much she has been fighting for rights for years and years. The clips of her statement that: ‘Women’s rights is human rights’ made all of us very emotional. It made us want to fight for her even more. This message was then followed by: Bill and Chelsea coming in to ‘Happy’, and being star struck does not even begin to describe my emotions. Like the actual Bill Clinton was standing right there talking about his wife in such a motivating manner. His belief in her, and ability to speak hooked the entire crowd, made me even surer in my choice of Hillary.
Then it was the moment we had waited for, coming into fight song HILLARY WAS HERE. Choosing a perfect song to go along with her slogan of ‘fighting for us’. She spoke for around 30 minutes without stuttering once and getting the crowd cheering and engaged. To sum it up, she was incredible. Such an incredible speaker and truly motivated the whole crowd in and idea of change. 44 men were enough…. It was a time for a Woman in the Whitehouse.
What the hell is a Caucus?
Today was the day of Caucus, which meant being at the campaign office bright and early. There would not be as many houses to visit today because not only was it election day, it was also a working day. This meant that most people would not be home and also would have already committed themselves to a particular candidate. Nevertheless we collected our pack and went about on our merry way. Today was slightly different because we were able to go in pairs instead of singularly…this allowed us to complete the packet to its entirety.
The first houses we went to were beautiful; the whole neighbourhood were some of the nicest houses I have ever seen, but there were literally no people to be seen. The roads are always so empty because everybody drives. Public transport is almost non-existent and walking is too far with the size of their roads. Apart from the occasional person, nobody was in which made the door knocking mostly unnecessary. Finishing the pack proved easy because of this and it meant that we came home early before the Caucus.
After a couple of hours rest we made our way to the biggest Caucus in Des Moines. A Caucus is essentially thousands of town hall meetings, which happen across the whole state simultaneously to decide who will lead their party. Attending one was the most surreal experience. The room was split into Sanders, Clinton and O’Malley supporters. There were over 700 registered voters ready to participate in the Caucus, which meant the counting process took a long time. From what I saw, this process seemed to be based a lot on trust. Hands up and counting the amount of people can easily be tampered with. Also, any of us could have easily stood there without raising suspicion, which seemed strange. Sometimes, certain people had to leave before the vote could be counted which seemed unfair that their vote would no longer be counted. What was nice to see, was that anybody could suggest ideas on how it would be best to handle the amount of people, which kept the community feeling.
We attended a victory party that night to celebrate with HillaBae, but with the full-on timetable we had been following the thought of a flight the next day and our increased fatigue kicked in. It was time to get ready for the next state and next adventure.
Iowa picks corn, New Hampshire picks presidents
After a struggle with the weather we finally made it to New Hampshire a day later than expected. In New Hampshire we were staying with host families and arriving so late on the first day would have been a shock but a lovely lady hosted us. She opened her home to us immediately and made us feel so comfortable and after being away from home for so long it was refreshing to be in a home feeling again.
We started early the next day and were located in the Derry Campaign office. This immediately felt different to Iowa with how much larger in scale it was. The office was full of Hillary merchandise, and a full campaign team to organise us all. However, the general operation was exactly the same, we would collect our packets that morning and canvas door to door throughout the day. Our response from the public was a bit more negative than in Iowa, and their feedback was based on how many people had already come to their door in the last couple of weeks. Some applauded the amount of commitment the Hillary campaign had. This was when it was interesting to notice the fine line between being persuasive and annoying. Trying to bring this back to the UK would be received differently in my opinion. Not only because we aren’t used to this level of canvasing but also because not everybody is as open about whom they are voting for in the UK.
Campaigning in this weather was also a new challenge. Although very beautiful to look at, the snow was not the most comfortable to walk in, which meant most of us had drivers for the day or were campaigning locally. Half of the group actually experienced telephone canvassing. This is more commonly used in the UK and many of the group had worked with parties locally using this method. However, it will never be as convincing as looking at somebody and convincing him or her directly. Another challenge was the amount of opposing supporters in Derry. It was already predicted that Bernie would win the primary, and this was demonstrated with the amount of support he had when were canvassing. We were also a lot more aware of the Republican support around. New Hampshire already felt more lively than Iowa.
Today was another day of campaigning doing the usual. However because the superbowl would be happening that day the work day finished earlier and thought we would go watch it all together. This was an interesting experience because it was the first time we would meet actual trump supporters.
By complete accident we ended up in a Trump supporting bar, which had put up signs while we were there in order to host for the supports from a local rally. We had the unfortunate pleasure of having a few come over and speak to us. The general questions already made us nervous, therefore when the second person came over we were rattled. It was obviously just polite conversatioin but we did not want to offend them in any way. But after a lot of nervous laughing he asked about our trip. When we mentioned the sorm and weather, his reply was simply: ‘Have you noticed that whenever Obama or Al Gore do a speech we have a storm. That’s god showing that global warming doesn’t exist’. This was obviously followed by more nervous laughter. It gave us an insight into how religious his supporters really were. We had never been directly exposed the extreme right view of America which was very interesting to see.
Primary day for Hillary ft. Hillary (tbc)
Leaving was not what any of us wanted to be doing on that Wednesday. The primary was over and we had a lot to think about if we were going to make a difference in the UK. American Politics was as exciting as I could have hoped it would be and provided a new perspective to look at politics in the UK. One of the major elements which I believe isn’t used to this level is the media involvement. On every platform the election is all anybody can talk about, with advertisements of candidates in between every TV show. American politics also demonstrated how canvasing working an organised large-scale environment. Every age, colour and sex of voter were well engaged in the policies of every candidate and seemed to making informed decisions. Introducing some sort of citizenship education throughout the whole of Britain would show potential voters what they would be voting for and how they could get involved in politics.
What can be bought back to the UK in a very significant level is what is important to the voters. The presidential campaign allows each voter to really connect with their potential leader and be inspired by their ideas as well as their personality. The Americans truly place a trust in their president to vote on the ideas that matter to them the most and give their vote a high value. Being able to enhance my knowledge through such an on hands experience was an incredible opportunity that I would do all over again if I had the chance.
45 for the 45th is a non partisan organisation. So why did I choose Hillary? Even before working for her she has always been the woman who I genuinely believed could be the one to change the world. Her constant fight for women and the rights of all minorities commendable part of who she is. Her priority has always been to fight for those who cant, even when she want directly in office. In comparison to all the other candidates, she is ready for office right this minute. She has been apart of the system for so long through her husband and on her own. Regardless of what ideas that they agree to bring to the table, between Bernie and Hillary the thought of who will genuinely be able to implement these ideas it was keeps me believing in her. I’m with her.
I am a final year American Studies student and I have just returned from a year abroad in Wyoming. I want to inspire more young women to get involved with politics so that our views are represented. UK politics is changing, and we need to be involved in its future!” Eleanor Dall, 21 University of Birmingham
45 for the 45th Trip to Iowa, DC and New Hampshire
During my ten day trip to the United States I was able to learn, observe and take part in the initial stages of the presidential candidates campaigns. In Des Moines, Iowa, I volunteered for Republican underdog, Ohioan Governor John Kasich and I had the opportunity to observe a Democrat Caucus. In Washington DC we visited the birth place of US democracy where we toured the US Capitol and watched a Bill being debated in the Senate. Finally, in New Hampshire I volunteered for Hillary Clinton and on the last day of our trip I met both Hillary and Bill Clinton, a reward for all of our hard work.
What stood out for me the most was the Caucuses in Iowa. At first, the Democrat Caucus seemed bizarre and almost old fashioned, the high school gym that we were in contained over 600 people and counting them all was a long and confusing process. However, as each person was counted it physically showed the support for either Clinton or Saunders and made it a more personal show of support. I can see how the Caucuses encourage high turn outs, with the 600 impassioned Iowans cramped into the school gym, as communities come out to vote and support the political process. The Republican Caucus was, of course, a less liberal and more formal affair, with a volunteer for each candidate speaking for a few minutes before the voters cast their vote. This is also a positive approach to getting a higher level of voter turnout as undecided voters, or those who have not been following the party candidates in detail, have one more opportunity to hear what each candidate’s stands for before they get the chance to vote.
Campaigning in Iowa was enjoyable, on the first day we did phone canvassing and on the second we met Ohioan Senators, Congressman and other supporters of Kasich who had flown in specially for the Caucuses. Although this was a much smaller campaign compared to that of Ted Cruz or Donald Trump, Kasich’s volunteers were passionate and dedicated whose friendly and persuasive demeanour persuaded many of the voters we called to vote for Kasich. His campaign felt more personal and I can see how the grassroots style of campaigning is an effective method for recruiting both volunteers and voters.
My experience in New Hampshire was a contrast. The scale of the Hillary campaign was enormous and our group was divided into bases in difference towns, and several of us were isolated in Londonderry to become 9 to 5 Hillary volunteers. In the minus 7 degree weather we canvassed door to door, stood outside polling stations and occasionally went inside to do phone canvassing and warm up. The methods of the Hillary campaign in New Hampshire were more traditional to British campaign strategies, with a slight weather difference. However, every Hillary volunteer had a unique passion and optimism that we, us volunteers, would make the difference and “help her win”. This optimism and reassurance kept us going through the snowy weather and therefore, this energy is something we need to bring to UK politics to motivate the voter turnout and emphasise the importance of each individual vote.
On our final day, the day of the New Hampshire Primaries, the Londonderry group took part in ‘visibility’ outside the local polling station. This was not the most affective form of campaigning that I observed, it felt slightly futile and seemed unlikely that my large Hillary sign would persuade people to vote for Clinton at the last minute. However, when voters walked past and gave us a nod, or smile of encouragement, our efforts felt appreciated and we really did feel as though we were making a difference. This is all a part of the energy that the Hillary campaign evoked on a grassroots level, inspiring young people to volunteer, who will encourage other people to vote who will then become a part of the Hillary campaign. This thought almost made the minus 7 degree temperatures bearable, almost.
Ohio (12th-16th March, 2016)
Day 1 – My first ever day of political campaigning started with an extremely grassroots Bernie Sanders group of supporters. Meeting at one of the supporter’s houses, with nothing but a few Bernie Sanders signs pinned in the lawn and a handwritten note on the door saying to come on in, we were surprised to find out that this was where we were beginning our campaigning for the Democrat candidate. We broke into two’s and they set us off on our task of door-to-door campaigning. To my luck, our route was by student housing for Ohio State University. The students that we spoke to were very keen to talk to us, and very enthusiastic about support for Bernie! Walking on our route, we passed groups of students wearing Bernie merchandise and holding signs, it’s clear that this area, dominated by students and young people, weren’t apathetic towards politics – but in fact were very active in the political process.
The second part of the day, and my most favourite part of the trip was spent doing ‘visibility’ for Hillary Clinton. We spent hours in the rain cheering Hillary chants, but not even the weather could dampen our spirits! The supports were off all ages and race, and comradery between everyone made standing in the rain actually very enjoyable. It was here that I was saw the extreme partisan nature of politics in the U.S. when pro-life supporters crashed the party, but even they could not succeed in stopping the enthusiasm for Hillary. This showed me the fun side of politics, and how it can unite people, even under harsh circumstances, something we rarely see in British politics.
Finally, we made it to the Democrat legacy dinner after a day of campaigning for both the Democrat candidates. Sitting on Hillary’s side in the upper stalls, we outnumbered the Bernie supporters greatly. We were told to continue the chants we had learned just outside during our visibility; every time Hillary was mentioned. It was clear that the dinner was a campaign tactic to raise money, rather than the rallies or other more grassroots movements.
Day 2 – More campaigning for Hillary, this time after reaching the Hillary HQ and listening to a speech by the Chair of charity ‘EMILY’s List’ – of whom are endorsing Hillary – the group split to door-to-door canvassing (of which I participated in) and phone banking. My door-to-door canvassing was slightly different to my experience on the Bernie campaign. We were sent to a suburban family area, we found that not only were these people less willing to chat with us, but they were also less enthusiastic than the students that we had previously spoken with. Of course, as mentioned this was a family area, many of whom were busier with work and childcare, so it’s understandable. Nonetheless this showed to me that young people are willing to involve themselves in politics and are enthusiastic when they see issues that are unjust and have a leader to inspire change.
We spent the afternoon at a local high school for a John Kasich rally. We had heard that Mitt Romney would be there to endorse Kasich so we were pretty excited. The crowd atmosphere was completely different to the atmosphere of the Hillary
and Bernie supports. Coming into this, I had preconceived ideas that the Republican party would use negative campaigning tools, downgrading the Democrats; just like as I had seen previously at a Donald Trump rally, although it wasn’t used to the same extent, it wasn’t all too dissimilar.
Day 3 – Primary Day! I spent my last full day in Ohio phone banking for Hillary at the Hillary HQ. What made this primary election so important was that, as well as Florida, whoever won this primary would receive all the delegates from the State and thus we all felt the excitement and nervousness in the HQ. The phone banking was pretty similar to the door-to-door canvassing, as we were given a list of names and places to call with the same questions to ask. I preferred the door canvassing however, it felt more exciting to get actively involved and talking face to face with the supporters.
Primary night was spent in Cleveland, Ohio, at the official Kasich victory party. The amount of media and press was astonishing, if Kasich had lost the primary, I expect the atmosphere and the tone of the party would have been something else entirely. Speaking to press, it was clear that many reporters were interested as to why British student would be so interested in American politics and their campaign election season. Our answers were all the same, you can’t compare the excitement and enthusiasm of American politics to the election season in Britain. Everywhere you go, you are reminded of the election season and this is one thing that I think we need to address in Britain, outlined below.
A Solution to British Apathy
Education – education is key to youth engagement. One of my main issues with the British system is the lack of education that young people have on their political system. The main answer I always hear as to why young people don’t vote or get involved in politics is that they don’t know or understand enough. You have to actively seek out information, and with so many people already labelling the general term ‘politics’ as ‘boring’ or ‘something that doesn’t affect me,’ you can see why young people don’t feel the need to go out and find the information. On top of that, it’s so easy to find bias media sources rather than ‘just the facts’, I believe that politics should be taught and made interesting at the local level and at schools to build the knowledge and excitement that I know politics can be.
The American system, children are taught about the political system, main political leaders, the founding of their nation through the constitution – I believe there is a serious lack of this in British schools. There have been achievements made with the introduction of citizenship classes, but I still don’t believe that this is enough. We need to overcome the label that politics is boring or that politics doesn’t affect me. When people are made aware of how politics affects them, it is then that we see real political involvement. One example being the university tuition fee raise, which led to student protests.
Politician engagement – Local level politicians need to do more within their respective communities to engage youth participation. It is easy to see why many politicians ignore the youth vote, they’ve consistent produced the lowest turnout year after year, and anyone under the age of 18 can’t vote and thus can afford to be ignored. The sense of unity that can come from community political engagement is one step to conquering the apathy towards political participation. Alike the visibility for Hillary, it made politics relevant and fun. Not only this but the lack of engagement politicians give, particularly in safe seat areas like mine, during election season I see next to none political leaflets, signs, and absolutely no door knocking. The election could come and pass without anyone knowing it had happened. As a young adult, I want to tell the politicians ‘please don’t ignore me’ we will give you as much time, effort, and support as you give us.
“Achieving mass democracy was one of the greatest triumphs of the past century.
Facing the greatest challenges to it seems to be the mission of millenials. 45ForThe45th is a project rooted in such premises, and this is the reason why I am part of it. ” Valentina Paradiso, University of Edinburgh
‘45 young adults travelling to the United States with the aim of improving British Youth engagement in politics.’
“Aren’t the main political parties all the same anyway?”
“I don’t know anything about politics and the political parties, so why would I vote?”
From personal experience (apologies to those of my friends who I am quoting above) and national statistics, the 2015 General Election clearly showed the vast disengagement among the majority of British youth with the voting and general political system in the UK.
Only 43% of voters aged 18-25 actually voted in the most recent election, illustrating a popular belief among young adults in simply not voting.
Personally I think voting and being involved in politics is each person’s opportunity to voice how they believe the nation should be run. Even though I will fully admit I am slightly politically obsessed, I honestly believe that many young people that don’t vote can see this too. Yet they’re choosing not to out of a lack of connection with any political party to properly represent them.
This is not to say that I am claiming it is the British youth’s fault for this lack of engagement in politics, but rather that there has been a failure by the main UK political parties to effectively target the youth in a positive way. Let’s be honest, it is often the youth that feel the brunt of harsh policies (with the most well-known being the excessive rise in University tuition fees or severe unemployment amongst 18-25 year olds). It is therefore clear to see why there is wide scale pessimism among the youth in relation to politics.
My hope that giving a rousing Olivia Pope-type inspired speech on politics (from the American TV show Scandal) would result in mass cheers from my friends and ultimately changing the face of British youth voting, has unfortunately not become a reality. Instead I have been met with cries of “not this again” and the ever loved excessive fake yawn (with noises for added effect.)
Instead, the ’45 for the 45th’ programme seems to offer a more successful outcome. As ’45-ers’ we will be able to witness first-hand effective methods of political engagement used within the 2016 US Presidential Election, which can be brought back and adapted to the UK system.
I am doing this programme because I honestly think it can effect change and narrow the disconnection that currently exists between young adults and the British political system. Developing new ideas and a national debate (with the main British political parties) has the potential to more positively attract young people to get involved in politics. Also, as one of the ’45-ers’, I will be able to turn my ‘apparent’ political ranting into effective action.
However, even though I know my friends are probably ecstatic at the thought of this, I can’t promise I won’t have the odd political outburst now and again. After all I am still a politics student… sorry guys!
Iowa and New Hampshire – What the UK could learn
This February I was fortunate enough to travel to the US and be part of their election through the organisation “45 for the 45th”. The group’s aim is for us to use our experience to improve youth engagement back here in the UK.
The youth vote in the 2008 Presidential Election at 51% was only marginally better than the 43% of young people that voted in the last General Election but where it far surpasses the UK is in the levels of engagement, something that the UK desperately needs to replicate if it hopes to turn this trend of apathy around. Although our focus was young people, my observations in both Iowa and New Hampshire turned out to be far more general as I couldn’t help but see areas of potential improvement across the entire political landscape.
After being tucked away in John Kasich’s minimal Iowa HQ for the whole of my first day, our first encounter with the grandeur of American politics was at a Hillary Clinton rally in Des Moines, Iowa. For us this was still a novelty, we were prepared to stand 2 hours in line as everyone passed through extensive Secret Service checks but it was the 2,600 Iowans in line with us that was truly remarkable. And this was a small rally! Bernie Sanders throughout the invisible primary regularly spoke to crowds topping 20,000 and Donald Trump has been forced to move events to stadiums, including a 43,000 seater in Arizona. Standing inside the venue I tried to think of a British politician that could even fill this school gymnasium and the answer is probably no-one and in here lies a serious problem.
There was too much of a dividing line between politicians and their voters and this only fuels the gap between the population and politics generally. We simply do not see our politicians as having personalities and while we may not want them to reach celebrity status as often happens in the US, feeling some sort of connection to politicians might help with engagement or at least mean more than 16% of the population actually trust those we elect to run our country as was found in an Ipsos-Mori poll in 2015.
When we went to New Hampshire and worked on Hillary’s campaign, we spent our first evening making calls. Our one instruction when speaking to undecided voters was to get them to one of her rallies. Engage them on the issues that they care about, do your best to inform them on her positions but make sure that you get them to an event. Not only can no-one sell themselves better than the candidates themselves but the air was electric. Choruses of “I believe that she will win” rang out for however long the wait was or until a call and response, “I say Madam, you say President,” began instead. Just 2% of Britons polled said that they genuinely care about a party or candidate, somehow we have got to reenergise the population.
For the US, rallies are a more traditional form of spreading excitement. Bernie Sanders’s supporters, especially his young ones, have become engaged through a far less traditional means, social media. During the Iowa caucus, 32% of all hashtagged tweets were mentioned Sanders as were 42% of all online conversations, more than triple Clinton at 13%. Given a choice, Hillary would likely prefer to get more votes in the Iowa caucus than Yaks (Bernie led with 60%), how much more would he have lost by if he hadn’t managed to capture 84% of the 17-29 age bracket. Youth participation is on the rise and the British politicians needs to embrace social media in order to connect with many more young voters.
Another thing that I vividly remember was the sight of young children running all around the gymnasium as the caucus was being held. At the time, 5 painstakingly slow votes in, a further distraction from the old man attempting to count all 800 people accurately seemed bothersome but looking back, it was a true reminder of the tradition of politics that exists in America. These kids with Bernie stickers pasted all over their faces or waving Clinton signs from the sidelines were participating and enjoying themselves at an age where we generally don’t even talk to kids about politics. At a rally we went to there was even kids on a school trip, waving posters they’d made in class. American society is very firmly rooted in politics, stemming from their in-built belief in the constitution. For the UK to replicate this, we need to get the newest generations involved, take them to the polling stations, teach politics classes at young age, even make it a mandatory GCSE, anything to prevent another lifetime of apathetic voters.
My perception of political interest in the US may have been skewed by the states I visited with $70 million spent just on TV ads in Iowa – they were undoubtably going to know that some kind of election going on. The worst thing to take away from America would be the money they put into politics but with the London Mayoral election coming up in less than 100 days, 25% of 18-24 years aren’t registered to vote and 40% of them weren’t aware at all of any upcoming election. Greater awareness needs to be brought to politics, an area where free social media could play a big role to avoid the $2,800 Jeb Bush spent for every vote he got out in Iowa.
The American system is far from perfect but there is a reason that so many of us overseas have been tuned into their election, it is exciting and full of real personalities, no matter if those are personalities that we love or hate. The introduction of television debates in the last two General Elections have been a great first step to co-opting some of the US’s better ideas, unfortunately they have also exposed how boring many of our party leaders are. Politics doesn’t need to be glamorous but it should engage the electorate or we risk to continue to threaten our democracy through a dwindling electorate and a new generation of young people still trapped in the cycle of being ignored by politicians so they don’t vote so they stay ignored.
” I joined 45ForThe45th because I believe that young people are the future of politics in this country and if we continue to be unengaged then that future is at serious risk.” Alice Grierson, 20 University of Edinburgh
31st Day 1
After having arrived the night before, we got up early and were taken to Precinct 62’s campaign office in downtown Des Moines. The office was ran out of a volunteer’s house, it was crowded and tensions were always running high. We were given a ‘pack’ which consisted of a map and a list of about 40 houses, all of which we had to visit in order to convince them to ‘get out and caucus for Hillary’. On the first day I completed 3 packs and spoke to upwards of 30 people. Everyone I spoke to was incredibly friendly and interested in why Brits had come over to campaign.
That evening we were lucky enough to attend a Hillary Clinton rally at a high school in Des Moines. Hillary and co. were running 2 hours late and I was stuck by the fact that I didn’t hear a single person moan- I fit in with the Americans and was jumping with excitement. The chanting of ‘I believe’ in the background was something that screamed ‘Murica to me, along with the extreme level of enthusiasm for a politician- something I have never seen in the UK. Chelsea and Bill came on to introduce Hillary- this was my first sight of the Clinton machine in action. The reception was electric- Bill captured the audience and the professionalism of the machine is so apparent even just at a short introduction. Hillary then took to the stage. She spoke about her plans for an increased minimum wag, the threat from ISIS, paying for college tuition and building on the work she has done as First Lady, a senator and Secretary of state. She was passionate but had none of Trump’s anger, she was inspiring but with none of Bernie’s idealism. She was the real deal.
1st Day 2
Day two of campaigning followed the same routine- door knocking and trying to engage people in Hillary’s policies but also in the idea of caucusing.
That evening we went to the biggest caucus held at a middle school in the area we had been canvassing. It was the craziest thing I have ever seen. In a Democrat caucus everyone registered democrat in the precinct is invited to a huge room to chose their winner. After everyone arrives there is a count of all the people in the room, they then repeat this for accuracy and in our caucus they had miss counted by 200- this is a good demonstration of the issue of inaccuracy especially when there were only 700 people in the room. Then the people split off into groups representing their candidate and counted in groups- O’Mally, Hillary, Bernie and undecided groups were formed. In order to be acknowledged in the caucus process a candidate needs >15% of the room caucusing for them and if they don’t make it they have to leave or form another group. When it was announced that O’Mally had less than 15% the Bernie and Hillary supporters set upon the undecided and O’Mally people, trying to convince them to caucus with them. In this process I didn’t hear anyone mention a policy, it was all ‘but I drop your kinds at preschool so come with Hillary’. In my caucus Hillary won after 2 hours of pandemonium. I can say that this system is nuts- the level of inaccuracy is extremely high and neither side seemed to be happy with the result.
3rd Day 4
Spent a wonderful day in Washington DC. Went up the monument, went to the Air and Space museum, the National Gallery of Art and the American History museum. Politics nerds that we are, we had a lot of fun pretending to be famous presidents whilst being green screened onto backdrops and reading out their most famous speeches. Somewhat shocked by the First Ladies part of the American History museum which did not have a single mention of any of the achievements of the first ladies but did have all their inaugural gowns!!
4th Day 5
Started with a tour of the Capitol which was fascination as we were able to sit in the viewing boxes of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The pride which exudes every American I met when they spoke about their political foundations and the strength of their democracy was something totally foreign to me.
We then wondered around and looked at the memorials which are beautiful and evocative before going tot the British embassy. We had a discussion with someone there about the ‘Special Relationship’ and the threat to of it regarding the referendum on British membership of the EU. We spoke about the diplomatic service about the differences in the electoral systems, focussing on the celebrity status of the candidates here and the crazy amount of money that goes into the campaigns.
5th Day 6:
After a day of travelling to New Hampshire we went to the Manchester HQ to do some evening phone calling. The reception was generally good with many people thanking me for my work, but there were also a lot of people hanging up or complaining about the volume of calls. Totally expected and comical at times.
6th Day 7
First day of campaigning at the Derry office in New Hampshire- a bigger organisation than in Iowa as New Hampshire has a primary system which tends to include more people as even people who are not particularly engaged get out to vote. Door knocking and phone calling was more of a challenge than in Iowa as people tended to be more reserved and less willing to explain their reservations about voting for Hillary, but in general people were polite and I found it very rewarding.
One thing New Hampshire is famous for is having an extremely high level of exposure to the candidates and other famous people. On our first day we met several mayors, senators, governors and we met Madeline Albright who was the first female secretary of state under Bill Clinton. She spoke so brilliantly on why Hillary should be voted in and kept highlighting how much of a progressive Hillary really is.
That evening we went to one of the host families houses to watch (or gawp at) the GOP debate. Trump was spouting nonsense as usual but all of us agreed that the main issue with the current state of the Republican candidacy is that by having Trump there, the rest of them seem so normal when in reality they are not. They spent the majority of the debate putting the other candidates down- something I have not seen from the Democrats- and attacking Hillary Clinton. Obviously I am biased but I was shocked by the quality of the candidates.
7th Day 8
Another busy day of campaigning. There was a snow storm so we had to be driven around which I really enjoyed as I got to spend hours chatting with normal people who had given up so much time and put their lives on hold to volunteer for the campaign. I found the level of community involvement inspiring with people giving us coffee and just generally supporting the efforts of the campaign office.
That evening we went to see Rubio speak at a Super Bowl party. Rubio was a good speaker but again didn’t talk about policy really and after starting off seeming relatively moderate, proceeded to offer his voters salvation. The religious aspect of politics is something I don’t think I could ever get used to.
8th Day 9
A small group of us got up early to go and see Trump speak. I am so grateful I was given the opportunity to see him speak and don’t think I’ll ever forget it. It was exactly what you imagine: racism and lies told in the most charismatic way. He starts off talking about heroin and claims that ‘heroin is cheaper than candy, that’s why all the kids have it’ he then jumps to ‘Vietnam is the biggest threat’- totally unrelated and unexplained. The majority of his speech follows the same tune with enthusiastic ‘yeah’s and ‘too right’s from the audience. Going to see him makes you realise that he isn’t just a joke and shouldn’t be treated as one as he does represent a fraction of Americans who shouldn’t be ignored. The audience and their reactions made me quite sad. The level of education was clearly very low and the lies such as ‘America is the most taxed nation in the world’ were taken as gospel.
We then left quite shocked and saddened for our last day of campaigning before primary day. Did lots of packs, made lots of phone calls and again met loads of interesting people. I love getting out and talking to people and the snow even played to my advantage as people would remark that that had to vote after seeing me trudge through 2 feet of snow.
9th Day 10
We stared off the day at a polling station doing visibility (standing outside with signs and greeting people going to vote). This was when we got the honour of meeting Hillary Clinton herself. She came and made her way along the line of supporters and thanked us for coming all the way to support her. I felt elated and was beaming for the rest of the day. She was so personable and normal whilst also being one of the most famous and commanding people in the world.
Meeting her gave me a real drive to work hard that day and I exhausted myself running round houses reminding people to get out and vote.
Although I have mentioned countless times how crazy the system seemed to me, I do feel that we have a lot to learn from the American electoral process.
I am not suggesting that it would be advisable to have a similar political culture where politicians are almost celebrities, but I do believe that if our politicians were made more visible, more people would participate in politics. Following all the candidates on Instagram it is clear that they reach a very wide and varied audience through social media. This online presence is a very easy and cost effective way to keep people, especially the young, informed and engaged. Therefore, I believe that British politicians should try and embrace the platform of social media.
The debates in the US are exciting, informative and accessible and we should have more debates here. They help people engage with the issues of the election and they are an easy way to inform the masses on policies.
Most of the rallies, caucuses and polling stations are held in schools as opposed to other community buildings like we use in Britain. I think that by holding an event in a school, young children will start to grow accustomed to the process and develop an awareness of the system from a young age. Teaching children about politics is one of the most obvious ways to develop a culture of participation so I think that Britain would benefit from making the political process more apparent to young people through education and the use of schools for events and polling stations.
“I want to learn more about the differences between American and UK politics, and use my experience to provide an insight into how young people in the UK can become more involved in politics.” Alex Turner 21
It’s been just over a month since I landed back on British soil having spent two weeks in the US campaigning for Hillary Clinton and while it’s nice to get back to reality, I do miss waking up to bagels and sickly sweet coffee. When I look back on it now it’s hard to believe we were only out there for two weeks because of just how much happened in that time – I was interviewed for a local TV network, got multiple selfies with the Clintons, and even managed to get myself in a car accident while at it. Hospitalising incidents aside, being a 45er has been a rewarding and enriching experience that I will look back on fondly.
This will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the most unpredictable and exciting races for presidential nominations. The surprising rise of outsider candidates, particularly Trump and Sanders, has turned the Washington political establishment on its head. It is in near-run things, however, that the strengths and faults of particular systems come to light, and so the fight for the nomination of the 45th president is a useful case study for improving politics at home.
On the question of Trump, the meteoric success of a man who has never held any political office, executive or otherwise, is a testament to the openness of US politics. The notion of a British businessman being catapulted into 10 Downing Street is nigh unthinkable: political leaders in the UK have to rise up through the ranks in their respective parties, relying on the slow trickle of patronage. Businessmen and women have, of course, become party political figures in the UK, notably Lord Sugar and his aide Baroness Brady, however their elevation to the House of Lords is simultaneously a permanent exclusion from holding the post of Prime Minister. The speed of leadership ambitions in the Commons is glacial compared to what we have seen in the US, which is part of the reason why figures like Trump and Sanders have been so successful. Anti-establishment candidates in the US burst onto the scene free of any political baggage and can harness the support of young people disengaged with the humdrum of day-to-day party politics.
I was struck by the sheer popularity of political rallies in the US. At Hillary’s New Hampshire rally, we were the very last people to be admitted and the security team had to turn away people who had queued for hours. This is a state of affairs I cannot imagine in the UK: you would not get the same endless, snaking queues to see Cameron or Miliband pitch their 2015 manifestos. I remember going to see Miliband speak in Manchester last year and, while the room did fill up, I didn’t have to queue to get in at all. Why, then, are so many people engaged in the US primaries compared to British elections? I would posit candidates in the Democratic and Republican primaries need the votes of the electorate much more than over here: the New Hampshirites were casting a ballot directly for Sanders or Clinton, Trump or Cruz or any of the other candidates, whereas me voting in Lewisham East for the Labour candidate was not a direct vote for Miliband. The disconnectedness of British political leaders from the grassroots stems from the fact that the overwhelming majority of British electors will never put a cross next to the name of Blair, Brown or Cameron.
Related to this point of more direct democracy in the States is the greater scale of political theatre over there. It is not something often said of the UK that its political institutions lack drama: the State Opening of Parliament with Black Rod and his breeches, the weekly Punch and Judy show over the dispatch box at Prime Minister’s Questions and the extreme grandeur of royal events such as the marriage of William and Kate are just some examples of our national political theatre. However, none of these include members of the public in any meaningful capacity.
Instead, they are restricted to mere spectators. In contrast, the curiously American tradition of the caucus that I saw first-hand in Iowa requires its voters to stand on either side of a room to indicate their support for the presidential candidates. Nothing of the sort exists here in the UK (which is probably for the best given they miscounted by 200 people on the first count).
If we truly want to engage more people, especially young people, in British politics we can learn these lessons from the US. The people need to be involved much more directly in the process of elections. In some ways, this is not new: given the opportunity to have an equal voice with the parliamentary party and the trade unions in the Labour leadership election in September 2015, hundreds of thousands of people registered to vote. Over 400,000 people voted in this election, compared to 200,000 each for the Labour leadership election in 2010 and the Conservative leadership election in 2005. Perhaps the best way to get people involved in the affairs of state is, then, actually to involve them.
“I believe my generation cannot afford to be politically passive in the face of the obstacles we have to overcome. I want to use this opportunity as a 45er to help other young people in the UK engage with the political process.” Ben Walker-Collins 23, Graduate, Liverpool John Moores
45 for the 45th trip
In recent times, the younger generation has found themselves on the wrong end of a number of different domestic policies which can range from the infamous tuition fee turnaround to, arguably, the biggest affordable housing crisis in a generation. We’ve seen a legally binding ‘living wage’ applicable strictly for over-25s and a further liberalisation of the workplace with the Office for National Statistics announcing that, as of March 2016, 38% of people on zero-hours contracts are aged 16–24, despite this group making up just 12% of the labour force. I believe that there is a willingness among young people to see a change in their current situation, but our political system has consistently failed to engage younger generations in this country. There are a number of reasons as to why this is the case but, as we approach potentially generation-defining decisions related to education, the economy and the environment, it has never been more important to ensure young people have a voice in Westminster and beyond.
When it comes to engaging its electorate, the American political system adopts a series of different tactics from UK politics; not all of which would necessarily translate well into the British political process. The sheer scale of each candidate’s campaign was the first thing that struck me upon arrival in Iowa. Front gardens were heavily adorned with endorsements of both sides, billboards featuring personalised attacks between candidates were found on every freeway and within 5 minutes of switching on the hotel television you could see each campaign promoting its message through sponsored advertisements. This theme was maintained throughout the duration of our trip and is, most probably, reflective of the huge disparity in the levels of funding between British and American elections. Once I had the opportunity to participate in some campaigning and speak to residents in both Iowa and New Hampshire, I wasn’t surprised to discover that many of them were clearly running out of patience with the relentlessness of the campaigns already. When knocking on the door of one lady in New Hampshire, I remember her opening just to say “Politics? No thankyou” before returning inside. I can’t say I really blamed her, the presence of the political circus is surely felt more harshly in those less fashionable states whom are undoubtedly used to enjoying more tranquil surroundings. The ubiquity of the election was overwhelming but it did leave me wondering whether there was a happy medium between the American model and our own in the UK. I’m sure that the British people wouldn’t respond well to this scale of media frenzy but more can surely be done by the British media to accurately and responsibly bring political events to our televisions and, more importantly, to our communities. You can’t argue that people were talking about it. You could see them, walking down the street and in the bars, discussing the events so far on the campaign trail. Perhaps a slightly more robust strategy combining the parties and media networks to improve visibility would have a lasting impact on moving discussion beyond the walls of power and provoke real debate within and amongst young people.
Another thing that struck me whilst observing the American model was the clear and impactful presence of each candidate as individuals. They weren’t only seeking to win the votes of the constituency, but reliably or not, they appeared to want to interact with the voters. I was fortunate enough to witness both a Democratic and Republican rally, whilst also actually meeting Secretary Clinton outside of a polling booth. Both events were extremely popular and, personally, I found it refreshing to be able to witness a candidate first-hand in close proximity and be able to fully establish their principles in relation to my own. Admittedly, the American election is a considerably longer affair than its UK counterpart but that is more than equalised by the sheer amount of ground each candidate covers. Aside from the infrequent television debates, only one of which the incumbent prime minister actually attended, I think that many people really weren’t sure what the candidates and parties were actually standing for in terms of policies. I would argue that media profiles won the day; Ed Miliband as the affable but bumbling fool, David Cameron as the slightly stern but ultimately responsible gentleman and Nick Clegg as the treacherous pantomime villain. When I went to see Hillary Clinton’s rally in Iowa, I was led to believe that this was one of many similar events she had already done and would continue to do on the campaign trail. If such events happened during the UK election, where was the publicity? Speaking for myself, I was only able to see one party leader talk in the build up to that election and it was in a small room under a pub filled with about 40 other people. Given the chance, I believe that the engagement of young people in this country would be improved tenfold were they given the chance to engage directly with candidates in these kinds of events. These rallies were not for members or volunteers but publicised to the community more widely so they had a chance to hear their side of the story straight from the horse’s mouth. I believe that large swathes of young people in this country are either mistrusting of certain media interpretations of political phenomena or find it to be communicated in a way which doesn’t translate to their own lives. Given the chance to see a politician put his cards on the table and tell them directly what they want to do for you personally can have a profound effect on the willingness of any person to act on that. A more intimate political experience is bound to not only influence the individuals, but also their social circles and communities.
From my experience, the candidates in American politics enjoy pseudo-celebrity status which allows them slightly more scope to mould a public image. As a result of this, their supporters tend to wear their political allegiances as a badge of honour. Nowhere was this more evident than at the Iowa caucuses, where voters have to openly and publicly declare their loyalty by sitting amongst like-minded supporters and awaiting an independent adjudicator to mentally count how many supporters each candidate has in the room and, once a group of “undecideds” has picked a side, pick a winner. Not only did the entire process seem bizarrely antiquated but it was clear that the methods were far from foolproof. I recall seeing a number of Bernie Sanders supporters leave the room after the first count despite the counters announcing shortly afterwards that they’d miscounted and they needed to start again. While we waited for the results to come in, there were reports that some caucuses had rather puzzlingly been won by a coin toss. It’s pretty clear that not everything witnessed in America would be a roaring success back in the UK.
The trip itself was a massive eye-opener and I feel grateful I was able to participate in such a unique experience. It has highlighted for me a lot of elements of the UK system of which I am proudest as well as the numerous shortcomings. From my own experience, I know that youth political engagement is a problem that needs to be tackled in this country and I certainly feel that my time spent in America has helped me to formulate some ideas of what can be done on this side of the Atlantic to get young people talking about the issues that are affecting them and, most importantly, voting. In a generalised sense, British people certainly tend to be more reserved and private when it comes to their political beliefs, which is something which needs to be carefully considered when trying to relate the American system to our own. Having said that, this trip has certainly helped me to focus specifically on what can be done to improve youth engagement and, ultimately, push issues concerning young people onto the agenda.
“I joined 45 for the 45th to experience the U.S election process, arguably for the most famous public office in the world. I want to use this experience to make a positive contribution to the political process in the UK and help to encourage young British people to vote.” Calum Foster, 22 Kings College London
I awoke on Saturday 30th January feeling excited with a touch of anxiety. Today was the day I was going to be flying to the United States (US) to experience the 2016 presidential election first hand! I had packed the night before and I set off to the airport to meet up with the rest of my ‘45forthe45th’ companions. I arrived at Heathrow in good time and treated myself to a breakfast of salmon and eggs, before meeting the squad at the gate and boarding the plane. After two connections, forty winks and a few films later, we found ourselves in Iowa. As a British American dual citizen I have been to the US a number of times, however never to the Midwest, nor anywhere in America that was so cold! Our loyal bus driver, who would be with us for the whole duration of Iowa, met us at the airport and took us straight to the hotel where we got some much deserved rest.
We were allowed a rare and pleasant lie in on Sunday (in Iowa it’s unheard of to begin campaigning before 12 noon on a Sunday). We all ate a typical American breakfast of waffles and syrup before being driven through Iowa to the precinct where we would be campaigning for Hillary Clinton. ‘45forthe45th’ is a non-partisan programme and therefore those that preferred campaigned for the Republicans. We were greeted by a mix of volunteers and paid staff who quickly showed us the ropes of canvassing by door knocking. I had never campaigned before so this was a completely knew experience for me and did honestly fill me with some trepidation. However, I set off by myself and after a few doors I realised that either people were not in or it wasn’t too bad an experience after all. I was equipped with flyers, a script and addresses of people who have all indicated that they had a preference for Hillary and my experience was rather pleasant. Although, others and myself did receive some complaints about the repetitiveness and constant door knocking, which in some cases was apparently turning people off voting. We expressed these concerns to the volunteers at our precinct headquarters (HQ) however they assured us that this was the usual reaction from residents but in fact “statistics” show that repeat door knocking did not discourage people from turning out to vote. (I personally thought the statistics should be questioned.) After the busy first day of campaigning we were driven to Lincoln Middle School, the location for a Hillary rally. We heard Bill and Chelsea introduce Hillary, and then we were treated to one of the finest speeches I have witnessed. I was completely encapsulated for the next hour just listening to why we should vote for Hillary. This was a big moment for me on the trip!
Monday was the day of the actual Iowa caucus. We awoke earlier as it was a weekday and were again driven to our precinct HQ where we went out door knocking again, this time in pairs. I was paired with Prabjheet (Prabz). We were all beginning to get to know each other a little better now, but I thoroughly enjoyed spending the morning with Prabz as I got to meet and discuss with somebody that I would never normally have the opportunity to during my usual university day. Prabz and I were unable to knock on as many doors as we would have liked because we were given all apartment blocks and retirement homes and were not let in anywhere. We returned to the hotel for a quick change before going out to the largest caucus in Iowa. The whole caucus experience all seemed very distant and different to anything we have in the United Kingdom (UK), probably because it is! People were standing up, moving around, being counted four or five times. It all seemed like a bit of a shambles and waste of time when people could simply put their choice of candidate in a ballot. This was purely for the Democrats may I add, the Republicans did appear to have more structure to it. But even so, I did think the system was rather archaic and needed updating. Following this we returned to the hotel for an early night as we had an early start the next day. We were already a third of the way into our trip!
Tuesday we woke up at 5.30am to get bus to airport to go to Washington DC. Although we were not campaigning as such in DC, I was still very excited to return to the city of my birth. Whilst there we went to the British embassy, had a tour of the Capitol building and saw the numerous sights DC had to offer. I quickly assigned myself as group tour guide for those who were willing to listen throughout our time there and showed people down the National Mall all the way down to the Lincoln Memorial. Even though no campaigning was being done in DC there was still a great deal of election hype and it was all over every newspaper and television channel.
Due to poor weather we were delayed on our way to New Hampshire, however this did not dampen our spirits and we managed to fly out on the Saturday afternoon. (I was especially pleased about this as it meant I was able to watch England’s opening game of the 6 Nations rugby tournament against Scotland in a local pub!) We were greeted at Manchester, New Hampshire by Gordon and his brother Callum who took us to our respective host houses as we were being hosted by Hillary supporters for this last leg of the trip. As soon as we arrived, my five hostees and myself went straight to bed, ready for a day of campaigning the following day.
The first day of campaigning in New Hampshire followed a very similar structure to that in Iowa. We drove to a precinct HQ and were given course packs with addresses, flyers and a map and were sent on our way into the New Hampshire winter. However it differed in respect to the fact we were in pairs for the whole duration and there was over two feet of snow! I was paired with Kusai and we trudged through Arctic conditions for the day, reaching about fifty homes! After a good few hours of campaigning Gordon and Callum collected us, took us for some well-deserved pizza, and then on to a Rubio rally. Aforementioned, the programme is strictly non-partisan and I really appreciated witnessing rallies from both sides of the aisle, no matter how much disagreement I may have felt for Rubio’s policies. I must say however that I did feel very uncomfortable at the rally due to his negative rhetoric on immigration, healthcare and pro-gun status. I was relieved when a small number of us left early and made camp in a bar, where we watched the Denver Broncos bring home Super Bowl 50, comfortably defeating the North Carolina Panthers.
Feeling slightly worse for wear post-Super Bowl, we were kindly woken by the smell of pancakes and syrup our hosts had made for us. Not only was the food delicious, but the conversation was riveting too. Our hosts, a rabbi and his wife, were very interested in each of our lives, stories and political opinions. Today I canvassed with Claudia, however we did not get very far and had to come in early due to terrible weather all over the state. After grabbing a quick bite of sushi, we returned to HQ where we took turns campaigning on the phones. This was the first time I had done any campaigning on the phone and I have to say, the reviews were mostly negative. Either people were not in or they immediately hung up, muttering utterances of repetitiveness and “overkill”. Gordon and Callum took us home shortly after this as the weather was rapidly deteriorating. When we arrived we were treated to some warm cocoa before bed and we presented our hosts with our gifts, something from our hometown. As a proud Yorkshireman, I gave them the finest tea in the world: Yorkshire Tea.
Tuesday was primary day and was without doubt my favourite day, as I actually met Hillary Clinton. We were up early, very tired and very cold in this seemingly endless winter, however meeting Hillary lifted everybody’s spirits and we were on a high for the rest of the day. The rest of the day concentrated on visibility, where we would be taken to various polling stations and shake signs telling people to vote for Hillary! I am not sure exactly how effective this tactic was to be honest with you, but we did speak to some people who said that they were flipping a coin in the booth before they voted, so this campaign tactic may have actually been quite useful. After a good hour of this, and a few Farenheit lower, Callum picked us up and took us back to HQ for food and then onto our Super Bowl bar for goodbye drinks were we told each other our “peaks and pits” of the trip. My peak was without doubt meeting Hillary; my pit was the Rubio rally.
Wednesday was our final day and consisted solely of eating, sleeping and travelling. We said goodbye to our hosts and then flew from Manchester to Detroit and onto Heathrow, landing in Heathrow at about 8am. The whole 45forthe45th experience was truly riveting, eye opening and enthralling. I went to a rally from both the Democrats and the Republicans, visited the British embassy and the Capitol, saw the White House, campaigned in the first caucus and primary, attended the largest caucus in Iowa, and most importantly, I met Hillary Clinton. I would personally like to thank Callum for driving us around in New Hampshire and Gordon for being a solid and organised leader, even when faced with adversity or unexpectedness.
If I could make any recommendations for the UK for increased youth engagement in politics, it would be two fold. Firstly, I appreciate that our electoral system is vastly different: we vote for a Member of Parliament (MP) not the Prime Minister. But the parliamentary candidates in a particular constituency could still give more talks or rallies to try and stimulate people and get them out to vote. The US candidates were sometimes giving eight speeches on primary day and that was all over the state!
Secondly, these talks and polling stations could be moved to places in the UK frequented by young people. Every rally and polling station we visited in the US was in a school or university. If I was in my university on my polling day, I would be more likely to vote simply because it was where I was and I believe there would be a general “buzz” about the place also.
“I’m a 45er because despite the bad press the US politics often receives in the UK it can still teach us a lot about enthusiasm for the political process. Over half of the young people in the UK don’t vote and I hope from my involvement in 45ForThe45th I can learn how to encourage and engage people of my age to start believing that politics does matter.” Cameron Hill 21, University of Aberdeen
45 for the 45th: My Experiences in Iowa, Washington DC and New Hampshire
Despite participants working primarily for one particular campaign, the aim of 45 for the 45th was always to facilitate young Brits in embarking upon a mission of discovery about youth engagement in the USA from a non-partisan platform. The programme, in that respect, was a resounding success. We, the first ever ‘45ers’, came from a brilliantly varied set of backgrounds and thus there were a plethora of political ideas and beliefs amongst the group also. Regardless of campaigning experience or party political tendencies, each and every 45er had a clear intention to learn from the political culture in the USA during the primary season in order to bring what we had learned back to the UK and hopefully, to use what we find to encourage more young people to get engaged in politics.
Iowa, Washington DC and New Hampshire were our stops on the trip and each place proved to be wildly different. The Hillary campaign in Iowa was, as well as being very organised, obviously used to having outside help and people coming from elsewhere to contribute to the campaign. The most memorable moment of the Iowa portion of the trip was the caucases. A highly entertaining but shambolic way of voting was how I viewed it. In one regard, it was almost refreshing to see people so willing to publicly declare who they were voting for and certainly led to robust discussion throughout the night, with a surprisingly convivial atmosphere. During one discussion I had with a journalist from New York, she was clear that had this happened in her city, fights would have broken out. I agreed that I the UK too, people are often far less outgoing in terms of their political preferences. This had been evident whilst canvassing though as well. Conversations on the door step had given me the impression that, with this state holding the first primary and with the caucusing voting system being so widely recognized, the people of Iowa felt a responsibility to be politically engaged and as a result were not shy in letting me know how they felt about the candidates.
Washington DC provided, despite not being part of our campaigning, a hugely busy and enjoyable few days. The sense of history and power that was had whilst walking around the city was clear, and taking part in a tour of Capitol Hill, seeing the Lincoln Memorial, visiting the various museums and, of course, visiting the British Embassy were all experiences I will not forget. The Embassy visit in particular felt significant and having one of the staff there explain so thoroughly the work that he and others there do and how he managed to get into that line of work was a massively interesting and helpful experience from many of the 45ers perspectives due to the fact that a great many of us hope to work in some area of the political process.
New Hampshire again was very different from the previous two destinations. The voters here were more reserved than in Iowa, probably due to the fact that in this state the Primary was conducted differently, with a private ballot being used to cast votes. The campaign we worked for here was hugely receptive to all the help we offered though, and very appreciative for everything we did. For many of us, New Hampshire was probably more enjoyable than in Iowa as a result of the open, friendly nature of the campaign staff. Social activities such as going out to watch the Superbowl also gave us memories of the USA we’ll keep forever that were not necessarily political. Staying with local activists was also a pleasure, and the family I stayed with were very kind and interested to hear of our experiences.
What did we find?
The most obvious difference between the electoral process in the US and the UK was the amount of money spent on the campaigns. Constant political advertising, often of a very personal nature, was something we quickly realised was a standard part of the Primary season in a way it is not at any point in the UK. There was a constant media frenzy wherever we went, which, although proved exciting for us, was clearly grating somewhat on the actual voters. I got the impression that this led to some looking forward to it all being over.
I also found that, although the level of youth engagement did not seem massively different to my experiences in Scotland, the enthusiasm was something which is rare in the UK. Clearly, it depends on where you are in the UK and for which party you campaign, but there did not seem to me that many more young people incvolved than what I’ve previously encountered. In saying this though, the rally’s and speeches we saw were always incredibly well attended by people of all ages and the carnival atmosphere, laced with football style chants for Hillary Clinton, sent a clear message that politics is something which many in the US feel a passion for which in the UK we can only envy. Another positive in terms of youth engagement was that, although I never came across too many young people, the student vote was mentioned often, in particular by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Clearly then, the vote of students is something which seems more highly valued by some of the campaigns in the US than by most of the political parties in the UK and this is something which will, I imagine, encourage more students to vote. The argument that, as young people, our vote does not matter, is something which applies far more to the UK than to the US.
Recommendations for the UK?
Showing a desire to win the youth and student vote is something parties in the UK often seem to lack. Engaging young voters requires putting forward a manifesto in which they can believe and really think will make a difference to their lives. Recent governments in the UK have, understandably, aimed to appease older voters with focuses on issues such as pensions and controversial measures on issues dear to young people being common place. To have party leaders consistently reach out to younger voters on national platforms as was the case for the likes of Bernie Sanders would make a serious difference in how the parties were viewed by young people and, in my opinion, encourage them to become more engaged and ultimately more likely to vote.
Although the level of debate and analysis in the US political process often leaves much to be desired, with personal attacks a preferred option for some candidates, the sheer amount of air time given to actual campaigns as opposed to policy detail most definitely reached out to a section of the electorate perhaps less likely to be interested in politics. Although we should not aim to dumb down out media analysis, a focus on the practical campaigning of political parties could alert more people to how politics is done during election time and may convince the more cynical citizens of the UK that actually, politicians do work hard to secure votes. At a youth level, this would be helpful due to the fact that for many, politicians seem to be at an opposite end of the spectrum from themselves and rather inaccessible in terms of rhetoric. Coverage of the likes of a town hall, debate or rally like the UK may encourage people to go along and see for themselves the importance of politics in their every day lives and how it can change things for the better.
Finally, following on from the point about political events being covered more widely, parties in the UK should look at holding more public events, be it a rally or a debate or just a meet and greet with a major figure. Showing the public, and in particular young people, that politicians are real people capable of meeting the public face to face may help remove the stigma that politicians are merely party robots. A personal vote can and does go a long way for young voters as well as the rest of the electorate, and from my experience in the US, it is clear that seeing a candidate in person can swing someone’s opinion of them fairly dramatically.
My experiences in the USA have informed me on how politics can be done and how, in some cases, it should be done. At the same time, we take for granted in this country just how (relatively) civilised we are at conducting ourselves during elections, and the personal attacks which are so rife in the USA is something we should avoid at all costs. Without the complete Americanisation of our political system, we can still appreciate and aim to match the enthusiasm with which the campaigns and voters take part at election time in the UK.
On a final note, I’d like to give special thanks to Gordon “dreammaker” Kerswell-Reid, his brother Callum and Suzanne for helping to organise the trip and keeping us all right as much as they could. It’s something I’ll never forget and I hope to help the programme in the future reach more fortunate young people like myself.
“I want to encourage other young people like me to get involved in politics and understand that we can all have a positive impact.” Dan Mercer, 18, Queen Mary University London
45 for the 45th Blog – Dan Mercer
After a long, gruelling journey across the Atlantic, down to Atlanta and back up to Des Moines, we made it to the famous political hotspot – IOWA. As soon as we left the airport, billboard after billboard, advertising one of the many candidates for both the Democratic and Republican parties, were almost everywhere. While the Democratic billboards appeared to focus more on policy, the GOP’s was extremely personal; ‘Turn up the AC, Ted Cruz is melting’, ‘Jeb Bush, a conservative you can trust’ were a couple of favourites. Although we were only in Des Moines for 2 days, we did an insane amount of campaigning, travelling around, rallying and caucusing, (and a bit of swimming for those that had brought swimsuits!). Following a well-deserved sleep on the first night, we were up nice and early ready to campaign for our respective candidates, Clinton and Kasich.
The majority of us were on Hillary’s team, and so we went to the Clinton Campaign HQ of the area – a beautiful house in Waterbury, West Des Moines. There were so many of us we couldn’t all fit inside! Nonetheless, we were given clipboards, Clinton leaflets and caucus reminders as well as a quick brief on what we were actually doing. We were dispatched in small groups and dropped off in various nearby precincts. I was on DM62 for both days, a beautiful, peaceful (and wealthy) neighbourhood. I’ve never seen such unique, interesting and – quite frankly – massive houses. Some had fountains and lush gardens, others had long extravagant stairways/driveways up to industrial sized doors; one was perched over a cliff edge with a bridge connecting the street to the front door. Fancy. Exploring this neighbourhood on my own was a real privilege; everyone was so friendly and interested as to why I sounded English/Irish/Australian. Some even invited me into their homes! Politically, this was clearly a Democratic safe-spot, judging by the number of Hillary and Bernie signs outside, and it was also clear that this neighbourhood was very politically active, and most of the people we talked to were extremely keen and excited to take part, and also very proud.
It’s this sort of attitude that the UK, and many democracies lack. Although it’s true that Iowa is an exception, being a rather dull state, of which its only real claims to fame are farming and the use of the complex caucus itself, the sheer energy expressed by the Iowans I met was refreshing to see. People would stop their cars and chat, wave to us from the street, hi-five us from their doorsteps – it’s a far cry from the UK, where you’re more likely to receive a disgusted glare, at as if you’d just handed them a dead baby.
Then came the rally. After a few hours canvassing, we got some burritos and raced down to Abraham Lincoln High School to see the woman herself – Hillary Clinton. An enormous queue welcomed us as we arrived, and we doubted whether or not we’d get in, with the rally free and not ticketed. But we waited patiently, and passed the time talking to others in the line, including a couple of journalists from CBS. We managed to get relatively close, only around 7-8 metres away from the stage, everyone was excited to see the Clintons as well as take part in some last minute campaigning before the next day’s caucus. After some time, President Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea grinned and waved their way onto the stage. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, a former President in the flesh, talking exactly how he does on all those documentaries and news programmes I’ve watched over the years! Then it was Hillary’s turn. Looking as stateswoman-like as ever, she delivered an exceptional 45-minute speech on her policies, experience and knowledge and aspirations for the country. I feel extremely lucky to have attended the rally, to see 3 iconic political figures not only in the context of the United States, but of the entire world. The excitement and energy in the sports hall was infectious, and we all left on a high.
As we arrived back at our hotel, the excitement continued as me and 3 others stumbled upon Ted Cruz’s campaign bus in a car park of a small events hall right opposite from where we were staying. We could only guess that he was rallying too – we guessed correctly. We wondered if it was possible to get inside – it was. We wondered if we would be able to meet Senator Cruz – we did! Entering the building as the rally was nearing its end, we headed towards the small crowd of people huddled around him, and we managed to grab a photo and say ‘We’ve come all the way from London to meet you Ted!’ – which was a lie, but he didn’t need to hear the truth. After a quick pic, we were quickly ‘escorted’ out of the building and we made our way back to our room. However, in the reception, to our surprise, sitting opposite the reception desk was none other than Barack Obama! No not really. I think that would have been a little bit too ridiculous.
The next day was Caucus day. We campaigned fiercely until 6pm and then made our way to Merrill Middle School to attend the largest caucus in Des Moines. Once again, the atmosphere was electric as we entered the school – hundreds of people. Neighbours talking, journalists writing, supporters cheering, it really was a sight to see. The sports hall was divided in 3, Hillary supporters on the left, O’Malley supporters and undecideds in the middle and Bernie supporters on the right. What was interesting was the age gap – from kids right up to the elderly, they all showed up to caucus. And so it began. 767 people – the largest turnout the school had ever seen – were painstakingly counted, again and again. The chairman, press and observers were kept behind a line so as to not confuse the counters. The first time, they managed to miss out 200 people. Amazing. After some time however, it was clear that Hillary had easily won, and Bernie supporters slowly fizzled out, clearly disappointed by the result.
After a fun two days in Washington, where we got to visit the British Embassy and experience a tour of the Capitol building, as well as do plenty of sightseeing, we began our long and complicated journey to New Hampshire. After many Ubers, Amtrack trains, airports and planes, we made it to Manchester and Londonderry. New Hampshire was very different to Iowa – mainly because of the snow, but also the buildings were older and there were trees everywhere; pretty little towns were scattered around, and everything was a lot closer together, unlike the seemingly never-ending suburbs of Des Moines.
When we arrived in Manchester, we spent a couple of hours telephone canvassing, which was a lot harder than canvassing door-to-door. I think it was more difficult because people find it easier to ‘speak their minds’ when not face-to-face with a campaigner. Afterwards we were dropped off at our host families’ homes. It was incredibly kind of the Siekmanns to house me and 3 others for the 6 nights we were there, it was a lot of fun. Tammy Siekmann was the Londonderry Clinton Campaign manager, and worked tirelessly to reach out to as many people she could to try and get them to vote for Hillary. Everyday we were given multiple packs of names and addresses and assigned a driver – other incredible volunteers, or ‘fellows’ that gave up their spare time to help us get to as many houses at possible. All of them were so kind and friendly, most were also hosting 45ers! Every night we would gather in the living room to watch the breaking political news and prepare for the next day.
Unlike in the UK, where most houses are crammed together, quite literally door-to-door, in the US we needed to be driven, often from street to street, otherwise it would have simply taken too long to knock on the doors, not to mention the snow and cold. Oh yeah, there was a blizzard on the third day, which slowed us down quite a bit, but we carried on for as long as possible. On the second day, a few of us got to experience Hillary a second time, at a rally in Portsmouth, Massachusetts. We were extremely lucky to even get in, as the people behind us were told to go home as there were too many people in the sports hall. We just made it. Although we were put in an overflow room, we still managed to hear her talk and see her hair through a small window. We were also paid a visit by Senator Al Franken of Minnesota as the campaign’s way of making it up to those that wanted to get into the main hall. Towards the end of her speech, the organisers appeared once more, saying that as people left the hall, we could go in to see her shake hands and speak to the press. People murmured and began to get excited – there was a chance of meeting her. As the doors opened, we all gradually pushed our way towards the barriers, and there she was. Smiling and laughing, shaking hands and chatting to her supporters. We managed to shake her hand and grab a photo, and when I said that we had come all the way from the UK to volunteer, she put her hand on her heart, closed her eyes, smiled and said ‘That means an awful lot to me, thank you’. It was such a privilege to meet the woman we had been canvassing for, and to meet such an important politician: wife to a President, First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State and life-long public servant. I will never forget that day.
Primary day came around quickly, and although the result was disappointing for the Clinton camp, we celebrated nonetheless with our fellow volunteers and 45ers in attending Hillary’s last ever rally in New Hampshire. Her concession speech was the best we’d seen her, now determined to do even better, it was inspirational and she remained strong and defiant. The crowd was going crazy for her, it felt as if she had won. After the speech, we were once again extremely lucky to meet President Bill Clinton and her legendary aide, Huma Abedin. We did it – our campaign involvement was over, time to go home.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED
While turnout is still a major issue in the United States, like it is in the UK, there is a great difference. For the Americans that do vote, they care about their politicians far more than we do. Candidates are treated like rock stars as they take centre stage; people get emotional and wait for hours just to hear them speak. In the US, politicians are a lot more personal despite having to appeal to millions more people. It would be great if this were the case in the UK, I think that most politicians here are automatically given a bad name simply for being a politician – people are apathetic to campaign and do not care about their candidates as much as they should. British people vote for parties, not people – 75% of people cannot name their MP, that says a lot. I feel that we can learn a lot from the US. Their system has as many faults as benefits, but the campaigns are far more politically engaging than in the UK. They last for years, not four weeks. Most importantly, communities and people of all ages come together to fight for who they believe in, and that in my opinion speaks volumes. That is what we need in the UK – more grassroots campaigns focused on the candidates, not the party or the Prime Minister, in order to get more and more, namely young people, to get interested in politics and discover that they can make a difference.
“Politics is what forms our daily lives, be it our health service, street sanitation or VAT on our favourite chocolate bar. I am a 45er because I want to help repair the link between people and politics, to help young people to engage with the polecat process and make a difference.” Duncan Kenyon, 21 Queen Mary University London
New Hampshire – The lost battleground.
When landing in New Hampshire it would not be easy. Hillary was predicted to take 30%, with Bernie on 57% and four days before Election Day. After a hassle of a journey, we arrived in Manchester ready for phone banking. Simply enough, we called people in New Hampshire to invite them to see Hillary speak and to ask for their vote. Fortunately, everybody I spoke to were pleasant and pro-Hillary, although some people had some difficulties on the phones. The American public were, on the whole, much nicer to speak to than the British public, and were happy to have a general chat about life in London. After this we went to our accommodation, staying in supporters’ houses.
Here is where I would like to thank Anne, my wonderful host of five days who looked after me so well. Based in Londonderry, New Hampshire, five of us stayed with Anne who helped us campaign, made sure we were fed and even took me shoe shopping!
Whilst in New Hampshire we explored some culture, including Mack’s Apple Farm, where President Obama spends Halloween, and Robert Frost’s house. It seems wherever you go in America you can find some sort of cultural heritage!
New Hampshire is quite picturesque with its two feet of snow. Everywhere I trod I felt like I was on the set of ‘Out of the Woods’ by Taylor Swift. Canvassing was a much harder feat than I have ever experienced before, as the snow took its toll in walking to houses. However, Anne drove us the vast distances between houses, so we were never too cold, or too far stuck in the snow without help at hand.
On our second day in Londonderry, we drove past Marco Rubio’s bus, which was very impressive. We saw he was doing a rally at a school, so we ran into get a quick photo. I was the last person to get a photo with him, so I was really pleased! However we quickly had to go back to Hillary’s campaign!
After several days of great reception at the doorstep, we headed to our second Hillary rally of the trip. Again, we heard great speeches from Bill and Chelsea Clinton, highlighting Hillary’s determination and record for fighting for injustice in America. The crowd went wild, as did we. It was an amazing atmosphere and a pleasure to be a part of. Hillary spoke about her ability to work with Republicans in Congress to ensure the Affordable Care Act would be extended to all citizens, and that she would clamp down on Wall Street. In an attack on Sanders, and the Republicans, she said she was the only candidate with the experience and the ability to bring about change in America, and pleaded for New Hampshire’s vote. No voter could have left that room without at least considering voting for Hillary.
On primary day I was sent to do visibility outside of a school. I met with a lot of Hillary supporters, waving signs of support. We were penned into a fence, opposite the Republican pen. The Republican pen was dominated by Carly Friona and Chris Christie signs, ironic as both dropped out of the election the next day.
As results came in, we knew Hillary had been beaten. Nevertheless, to come from 30% to 38% was a remarkable achievement in a state Hillary never thought she would win. Her final New Hampshire speech focused again on her ability to deliver. She told young voters, whom she realised she had a problem with as 83% voted for Bernie, that “although you don’t support me now, I will continue to support you.” She pledged support for women, for ethnic minorities, for LGBT people. And with that, the chorus of ‘”Fight Song” blared out, and Hillary left New Hampshire, eyes set out on Nevada’s caucus.
“As someone who is passionate about politics and foreign affairs, I consider the 45forthe45th programme to be a one in a lifetime chance to learn about the political character of another nation and to improve political awareness in the UK. If we want young voters to engage with politics, we need other young people to motivate and encourage them, which is exactly why I chose to be part of this programme.” Edoardo Fiora, 20 Queen Mary University London
Reflections, Edoardo Fiora – 45forthe45th Trip One
Day Zero – Friday the 29th
The calm before the storm.
Whenever I wonder about what lies ahead of me, I cannot refrain from thinking about the moment I found out I had been chosen to be a “45er” and to be part of the “45forthe45th” programme. Such news, whose importance I consider dear, came to me as a wonderful surprise, making me both proud and amazed. To this very moment, I cannot prevent myself from constantly wondering what it will be like to first handedly explore the reality of American politics, a practice whose prominence and influence have fascinated me for a very long time. Never before in my life had I been able to profit from such a great opportunity. In fact, never before had I been given the chance to practically explore and pragmatically study the world of politics by personally engaging myself in it. Conscious of the many new challenges that I, as well as all my fellow 45ers, will have to face, I cannot wait to be “deployed” to Iowa, where my journey will begin. To be completely honest, I have been finding it hard to contain my excitement for such a great prospect, whose outcomes, I am sure, will be extremely rewarding.
When I was applying to the programme, I was not entirely sure about how taking such an important and big commitment would affect me. Yet, as we get closer and closer to the departure date, I feel increasingly willing to make my words count and to pledge all my energies to the political cause. As one of the aims of the “45forthe45th” programme is to increase political awareness among our apolitical youth, I intend to show and demonstrate how rewarding, interesting, and motivating politics can be. Interestingly, at this very stage, I am still unaware of who I will be campaigning for in the States; yet, I strongly believe that knowing would not make the slightest difference. Being a 45er is about engaging with local political dynamics in order to increase political awareness at home, it is not about blindly embracing and spreading partisan ideas. If we, the 45ers, are to make a difference, we need to be able to detach politics from its biased and opinionated nature, focusing instead on the very importance of political processes and participation.
As time goes by and the Iowa caucus gets closer, the Presidential race on the other side of the ocean becomes everyday fiercer. As the outcome of such a contest will likely play an important part in shaping the near future of Europe and the United Kingdom, the time to get involved has come. It is time for us to open our eyes and embrace the greatness of politics, trying make others realise its fundamental importance.
Day One – Saturday the 30th
And so it begins.
Twenty-four hours of travelling from my place in London to our hotel in Des Moines, Iowa. A long, exhausting day that, hopefully, will lead to the start of an interesting experience tomorrow.
What I have personally found particularly enjoyable today was getting to know all the other people I am going to share this experience with. We all seem very enthusiastic and motivated. I am sure we are going to have a great time working together, I am looking forward to it very much!
Day Two – Sunday the 31st
A memorable day.
There could not have been a better start to my political adventure in America.
Early in the morning, me and three other fellow 45ers have been picked up at our hotel by Stephanie Crawley, an active member of John Kasich’s campaigning team in Des Moines, Iowa. In less than twenty minutes, during which Stephanie gave us some general information about the team and the scope of Kasich’s campaign, we reached the campaign headquarters in West Des Moines, where we would spend the rest of the day volunteering. Upon our arrival, we were introduced to Cory Crawley, the team leader, whose energy and spirit gave me great motivation throughout the day.
I, as well as the other three 45ers, engaged in telephone canvassing, an activity whose rhythms are generally very underestimated. We made over two-hundred calls each, and with each calls our effectiveness improved. By the end of the day and after interminable conversations, three electors had expressed to me a strong preference towards John Kasich, which, to me, seemed like a great reward.
During the evening, we joined the rest of the 45ers at a democrat rally hosted by Hillary Clinton in central Des Moines, a thrilling experience that I will never be able to forget. Standing less than ten meters away from the presidential candidate, we learned what getting physically involved into politics really means, witnessing the former first lady’s incredible oratorical performance.
In all honesty, there could not have been a better first day in Iowa. What made this day even more special was a text I received from Cory late in the night, asking me whether me and the others could join the team at a pre-caucus event the next day. I would easily give this day a ten out of ten.
Day Three – Monday the 1st
A real team.
What a day! This is what I had been looking forward to before the start of this trip.
Once again early in the morning, me, Georgia, Eleanor, and Mark were picked up by Stephanie who took us to a restaurant in central Des Moines, where a pre-caucus event had been planned. As soon as we were dropped in front of the restaurant, we started doing some visibility outside and inside the restaurant, showing “Kasich” signs and branding the event room with Kasich posters. Then, the guests started arriving, and that’s when things got interesting! Most participants to this relatively small pre-caucus get-together were senior politicians, Kasich supporters, who would have later been caucusing for him at different polling stations around Des Moines. Talking to them was both an honour and a pleasure as they told us about their political careers and roles. I personally felt like I was part of small, little “political family,” one whose core were Stephanie and Cory, the campaign coordinators, and whose values were centred around Senator Kasich’s ideas.
What made this family feeling even stronger was going to a restaurant with the whole team for dinner, as me and my fellow 45ers were invited to join Cory, Stephanie, and the others at a nice pre-caucus dinner. There, Cory gave a very emotional and proud speech, giving advices on how to caucus on the night to those who would have later gone caucusing.
The cherry on top of the cake was actually attending a caucus on the night! It was an unprecedented experience. It was like standing next to a political battlefield, one in which two factions fought each other for the control of undecided voters. It was simply great, and I do truly believe that a similar political process would help increase political engagement here in the UK, as people would be forced to attend a physical meeting in order to make their vote count.
Day Four – Tuesday the 2nd
Kayla the snowstorm.
In spite of heavy snowfalls and a dangerously early start of the day, we managed to make it to DC. Today all we did was travelling, battling interminable delays and airplane turbulence. Yet, I still consider this a great day as, in the absence of political activities, I managed to have some great conversations with my fellow 45ers, a real group of friends.
Day Five and Six – Wednesday the 3rd and Thursday the 4th
Washington the dream.
Today we got to contemplate and walk around one of the most amazing cities in the world: Washington DC!
The presidential buzz is not as strong as it was in Iowa here, but you could still feel some excitement, especially as people seemed very interested to know why and how Cruz and Clinton managed to win in spite of some very fierce competition.
Nevertheless, as we did not have to work today, we managed to see some amazing monuments and to visit some very beautiful museums. Hence, we walked along the National Mall, we saw the White House and visited the Lincoln Memorial. Yet, we did not stop there, and ventured all the way up to the Washington Monument before heading to the National Air and Space Museum, one of the most amazing museums I have ever got the chance to visit in my life. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was both extremely beautiful and incredibly touching, while the Thomas Jefferson Memorial was simply stunning.
On Thursday, in the morning, we attended a talk at the British Embassy, where one of their diplomats gave us an incredibly detailed overview of most diplomatic activities that take place in the embassy, also stimulating debate and conversation around the primaries. It was a very enjoyable hour, during which we realised the implications of such a complex election process; in fact, the presidential campaign it the United States is an event whose proceedings interest political bodies internationally. It is a one of a kind political occasion, one whose results shape the future of an entire country (and, arguably, of the entire world).
Day Seven – Friday the 5th
Cold, tired, but still working.
Today was another long day of travelling. Yet, we also managed to work for the campaign and, this time, I was on Hillary’s side!
After two flights, we got into Manchester, New Hampshire, very late in the evening. However, we quickly went to the Clinton Campaign Manchester HQ to do some phone calls, which I had already done in Iowa for Kasich. From the beginning, it was easy to notice how organised the Clinton campaign was. It was surely very different from the Kasich campaign, which was, at least in Iowa, much smaller. After an hour of successful phone banking, we all headed to a Mexican restaurant, where we had a well deserved meal before moving to our accommodation, which was going to be provided by a host family! At this very moment, I am thinking that tomorrow and the next few days will be very intense, especially for us staying in this house, as the house happens to be the Campaign HQ for Londonderry, New Hampshire. We’re going to really learn what grassroots politics is like.
Day Eight, Nine, Ten and Eleven – Saturday the 6th, Sunday the 7th, Monday the 8th, and Tuesday the 9th
CANVAS. CANVAS. CANVAS.
This is what I came here for. THIS.
The reason why I am writing this reflection after four days from the last one is because we have been literally working all day, everyday, for the past four days. Yet, though it was hard and tiring, it was simply amazing. And here’s why.
Canvassing is the very core of grassroots politics, its most basic component, and I, as well as my fellow 45ers, have canvassed morning and afternoon with little rest for the past 96 hours. Talking to people, persuading and convincing them, getting rejected and leaving informational flyers… it was all part of the experience. It was all part of that process that, in the end, gets candidates elected. Getting out, in the cold, going from house to house not knowing what and who to expect. This is the very first level of politics, the basis, what people wrongfully tend to underestimate.
Plus, rallies. Attending a political rally and getting the chance to see a presidential candidate, in this case Hillary, less than 5 meters away from me was amazing. It’s what the UK is missing. I am sure that if young people could see their political leaders and meet them, they would be much more keen to vote and get involved into politics and its processes.
New Hampshire was the heart of my experience in the United States and I cannot wait to get involved into something similar once again. I bet that if more people had the chance to take part to a similar programme we would very quickly fix youth engagement with politics.
Day Twelve, Wednesday the 10th
Time to go back.
I am now on a BA flight on my way back to London. It’s hard to describe what I feel.
This trip, with its ups and downs, has been an unprecedented experience for me. In less than two weeks, not only have I learnt what it actually means to be involved into a political campaign. Not only have I discovered a country I had never been to before. Not only have I met many new, fantastic people. During my time in the United States, I have realised we ought to do more in London, in the UK, and in Europe to make young people more engaged into politics. Politics shapes the world and our future, we need to be able to understand and use it properly. Thus, we should act now to make the youth comprehend the importance of politics. And this is why this programme ought to continue. To make our future a better future.
“I think that 45 for the 45th provides a unique opportunity to experience the American political process. I am excited to have the chance to experience the US Election and hopefully bring some ideas to increase voter participation back to the UK with me.” Emily Ennis
The American Experience
Hi, my name is Emily; I am one of the 45-ers who was lucky enough to go on the first trip of the year back in February. I like many others spent my time following the Democratic elections on the Hillary Clinton campaign. Our first Stop – Des Moines for the Iowa caucuses.
When you tell someone that you are going to America, Iowa is not one of the states that would be considered a big tourist attraction. But I, like many of the other 45-ers, where there for a whole different kind of tourism, we weren’t there for the sights but for the politics. Which I later found out is a whole spectacle in itself.
3 planes, 2 lost bags and 1 near miss later I arrived at our hotel in Des Moines late on the 30th of January. The next day we hit the ground running, with only a day to go until the caucus it was all hands on deck at the Hillary Clinton Campaign. After some introductions and explanations we were armed with street maps, a script, a list of names, and door stickers. We were then sent out to do some door to door canvasing. Our lovely drivers for the day were named Julie and Rose, 2 other volunteers who had travelled from out of state to help out. I found out quickly that people in suburban Iowa love 2 things, cars and dogs. It was rare to see a house without one or the other and most people with cars seemed to have 2 or 3. Happily everyone I had talked to that day were voting for Hillary, for those who weren’t home I left a little door sticker letting them know where their caucus location was.
That night we went to a Hillary rally at Abraham Lincoln High School. One of the biggest rally’s in the state, there were maybe 2000 people there all waiting to hear her speak and show her their support. I have to say I was stunned. And this was before I had heard the speeches! There were press and security everywhere. In the hall the press had their own platform full of camera crews and reporters. You wouldn’t find one person in the crowd that didn’t have a sticker, a badge, a hat or a t-shirt showing their support. Before the Clinton’s came out to speak there were a few chants to get the crowd going which everyone happily took part in. My favourite was “Its time for a woman in the Whitehouse, it’s time! It’s time!” It doesn’t sound like much written down but it was oddly catchy. Then we had the privilege of listening to Chelsea Clinton speak followed by her father, President Bill Clinton who introduced Hillary to the stage. The crowd loved her. Everyone listened intently to what she had to say, all around me there was lots of heads nodding in agreement along with her words and people shouting out their own words of support and encouragement. She commanded the room, it wasn’t hard to see why so many people in Iowa where willing to say “I’m With Her”.
The following day, the 1st of February was the Iowa Caucus. After some more canvassing during the day we later when to a caucus location as observers to watch the voting process unfold. If I didn’t know what a caucus was then, I sure do now. Very simply put, all the democrats gather in large room. Sanders supports to one side, Clinton supports to the other, undecided and O’Malley voters were in the middle. Then all the Clinton supporters are asked to stand or raise their hands which are then counted, the same is done for the other candidates, counts are repeated until everyone is satisfied that the count is accurate. There was also time set aside for the 2 larger groups of voters (Clinton and Sanders) to try and win the votes of the 2 smaller groups (O’Malley and the undecided’s).
To me this was both refreshing in its openness as it was perplexing. Everyone can see you vote, there is no secrecy, no paper ballots, no curtains to hide behind. I found myself thinking how confident you must need to be in your chosen candidate to commit to them so publically. And it’s not just the candidate you need to commit to but the caucus process itself. It may be interesting to observed but I found it was arduous an antiquated. If I recall correctly the process started at 7pm that evening, at our location there were roughly 800 democratic voters in a school hall, filling the bleachers and the floor space to bursting. Counting that many people accurately was not an easy job. There were multiple recounts; the first count was out by maybe 100 votes. The next was better but after a few hours a lot of people left to go home, which of course lead to more recounts. Hours later the organisers were happy with count. I myself was left feeling encouraged by the willingness and full disclosure of the people of Iowa. I can’t imagine people at home taking the time out of their daily lives to take part in a voting process like that. I definitely can’t imagine so openly declaring my support for a party or candidate or even watching others do the same. Clinton won at our location by a good majority, this win turned out to reflect the feeling of the whole state when we learned later that she narrowly won the whole state, beating Bernie Sanders by just 0.3%.
After Iowa we were off to Washington D.C for a couple of days before making our way up to New Hampshire to experience the other side of the coin, a primary vote. Just like Iowa was the first caucus of the year, New Hampshire is the first primary. For the first 2 months of the year, 2 states that are fairly obscure in the worlds media view are at its forefront. The world is watching and as the first to states to vote they are well practiced in dealing with this scrutiny. I found that while the media presence was exciting by the time the voting ends the people in both states were ready for normalcy to return.
After some lightning, some snow and a cancelled flight we all eventually made it to New Hampshire. Our first stop was the Manchester Hillary HQ where we spent some time phone canvassing. I think we were all grateful to be inside that day! The snow may be pretty but I for one do not hold up well outside in below zero weather. Most of the phone calls went unanswered, but after talking to some voters it didn’t take long to sense the change in attitude. I found that people from New Hampshire did not have the same openness about the elections as the people from Iowa did. Which of course stands to reason, New Hampshire use the primary system, which is the use balloting booths. Since their voting process was a much less public one the voters were just not as forth coming.
Our time in New Hampshire was split between phone canvassing and going door to door in Derry NH like we did in Iowa. Very few residential streets in America seem to have footpaths, more than once I found myself up to my knees in snow after underestimating how deep the snow drifts were. I mentioned that people in NH weren’t as open as those in Iowa but they were by no means closed off to us. My last day of door to door canvassing was my most enjoyable one; I talked to some lovely people all of whom were voting for Hillary and one person who already had. The next day we met Hillary herself. That was the same day as the primary. She was making the rounds at the polling locations, braving the cold like the rest of us to encourage the people of New Hampshire to vote Hillary. Despite the cold and the crowds of media and security she still seemed to me to be very approachable, I found that surprising. I’m not sure I would feel the same why about the politicians at home. Unfortunately despite everyone’s hard work Sanders won the state. We mostly expected that to happen. Although it was nice to hear that Clinton had won in Derry, the town we had spent most of our time in.
Despite her loss in New Hampshire Hillary Clinton is still going strong. One month later, at the time of writing, Clinton is winning the Democratic race with 1,614 delegates to Sanders’ 856. I am left following the campaigns for afar. I have to admit I miss the all the buzz and intensity that we experienced in the US. It certainly was an amazing experience and an eye opening one. One I am hoping to share will people back home. Which I am hoping to do soon via a write up that will be displayed in my old school as a way to get the word out.
One of the main things I took away from the experience was the openness of the caucus system. We don’t have anything like that here and I find myself thinking that it is something we sorely need. Another thing was not the politics itself but the spectacle. The fact that the world is watching, that every vote and debate is televised and reported on not just in the US but also here at home and I’m sure across the world is what makes it that much more interesting. Normally in the UK we would have nothing that could even come close to this, but currently we do. The EU referendum is something that has global attention and I’m sure will gain more momentum as time goes on. The draw of being part of something bigger than you is a powerful one. After my experience in the US, I believe that if anything in the UK will get young people out to vote it will be this.
45 for the 45th report:
The US election calendar begins with the Iowa Caucus on February 1st and the New Hampshire Primary on February 9th, with the results of Iowa and New Hampshire the first indicators of the future winner of the Democratic and Republican nominations. Our trip would see us campaign in the US in an effort to find a way of engaging young people in British politics.
We arrived a day before the Iowa Caucus, in Des Moines and immediately began campaigning. We were assigned a precinct and turf, with a list of names of those who had voted for the Democrats in recent years, in a bid to persuade voters to ‘caucus’ for Hillary Clinton and remind voters of their caucus location. Door-to-door canvassing provided an opportunity to directly engage with voters and discuss Hillary’s policies that voters were perhaps unsure about or wanted more information on.
On the day of the Iowa Caucus, we attended a caucus at Merrill Middle School where both the Democrats and Republicans would be voting next door. The Democratic caucus was a more unusual method of voting which saw voters divide into groups based on the candidate they’re voting for. The chairman counted the results by the number of hands raised in support of each candidate, and with over 700 Democrats at the caucus, this required several re-counts due to the miscalculation in counting the results. Martin O’Malley failed to receive at least 15 percent of the votes in the precinct so became an inviable candidate. Supporters of O’Malley had to then be persuaded by Hillary and Bernie supporters to support their candidate. In the end, Hillary won in this precinct with 462 votes over Bernie’s 246 votes, and this was mirrored in the state-wide caucus results with Hillary winning just two more delegates than Bernie. Many people I talked to were disillusioned with the Democratic caucus system citing a lack of time and secret ballot as reasons against the current system. Despite this, Democratic caucuses are still seen by some as a more authentic way of engaging in the political process and there was a higher than expected turnout in precincts all over Iowa.
With a short trip to Washington DC, our next stop was New Hampshire for the primary. We got a chance to phone-bank which involved calling voters and informing them about rallies organised that Hillary would be attending, as well as persuading them to vote for Hillary. The next day we were out again canvassing door-to-door to encourage people to vote for Hillary. The New Hampshire primary was made more interesting as independents, those who were not registered as Democrats or Republicans could vote. Many voters had still not decided who they were going to vote for in the primary and so we were able to engage and interact with people whose doors we knocked on and discuss Hillary’s policies. Participating and canvassing in the US Presidential elections was an insightful experience in engaging directly with US politics as a way of seeking to further engage young people in British politics.
In order to engage young people in politics in the UK, a sense of interaction with politics at the local level should be emphasises more in UK politics as the involvement at the grassroots level in the US was a direct means of participating in the politics for all. Local level politics plays a smaller role in general elections in the UK, with political campaigns perhaps tending to focus on the national rather than local level. The emphasis on local campaigns and canvassing is smaller in the UK, and greater engagement in this way can help to perhaps reduce voter apathy. This can provide a more personalised politics that would reduce the disillusionment people feel about politics, where the political sphere is linked closely to the distrust the public feels for politicians. A movement away from a focus on politicians as the face of politics is needed for the public, especially young people, to engage with political issues that affect them and become more involved in politics.
“I applied for the 45-er programme because my generation is the most politically disengaged generation yet and this has to change. Young people must play a role in the direction our country takes, so determining how to get more of my generation interested in politics is a challenge that must be overcome. Looking to the US for ideas on how to solve this crisis is a fantastic idea as their approach to elections and politics is completely different to ours. It is my hope that we can learn how to take some of these ideas and shape them for our own society.” Harriet Hughes, 20, Durham
Campaigning in America was such an interesting experience and being a part of this historic election was an opportunity that I am truly grateful for. I learnt so much not just about American politics, but about political processes, and campaigning in general. I honestly had underestimated the huge differences that there are between UK and US politics. However, I do think that in these differences we can find solutions to the hideously low youth voter turnout we have in the UK. I think it’s important to note though that there is really not going to be one single solution; it’s going to take a variety of measures from both within the political establishment, and outside it to change anything. Below are some ideas that campaigning in America made me think about:
Firstly, I feel that lumping ‘young people’, as is easy and commonplace to do, into one category doesn’t pay nearly enough attention to the huge differences that there are in this age group. 1 in 5 young people is from an ethnic minority, around half start at a university, 60% of 11-19 year olds have married parents, 9% have cohabiting parents, and 25% have lone parents. Education, socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicity; all of these things affect how or whether a person will vote. This huge diversity means that one measure might increase turnout in one area of young people, but not in another – this is something we saw in the extreme in America. The diversity between states is so huge, so I would argue that increasing youth turnout is more likely to work if started from a state level. It’s possible that in the UK, we should perhaps look at increasing youth turnout at first not at a national level, but in local areas first. This way we would understand the specific demographics of the young people that live there, and the issues and particular obstacles that they face and deal with.
Another thing that become abundantly clear to me whilst in America is that young people do care about politics. We have to stop telling them that they as a generation don’t care, because it will turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. The problem is that they don’t vote, not that they don’t care. I feel that older people often jump to the conclusion that young people don’t care and are hugely apathetic about politics, without even asking us what we care about. If they did ask us, the answer would be that we tend to care more about issues, and that we tend to care a lot less about politicians and parties in the way that older generations do. Our parent’s and grandparent’s generations cared about a party – they were strictly labour, or strictly conservative. This isn’t the case anymore, young people care about issues, but we’re living in a political system geared towards voters who care about parties. To solve this, we need to find a way to link up issues and voting – I think many young people believe they could have a bigger impact on an issue they care about through campaigning for an apolitical group, or petitioning rather than by voting. Whilst I was in America, someone told me about the Fight Apathy campaign which I thought was really interesting. They gave out stickers that say ‘I believe in….’ at school entrances and got everyone to fill in something they believe in. This got political conversations started – and helped to link the issues that young people believe in and care about with politics. We need to help young people see that issues that they care about are effected and impacted by politics.
Early exposure to politics has a definite impact on likelihood to vote later in life. In Iowa, they held mock caucuses on caucus day in schools across the state, encouraging young people (in some cases as young as 5) to engage with the political system. Whilst there are many arguments against the caucus system as a proper, democratic system of voting; in this case, in a mock caucus at a school would mean that you would have young people discussing and expressing opinions about politics. I feel like this would have more of an impact than simply asking a student to write a name on a piece of paper and put it into a box. Students that have no political knowledge and don’t care about gaining any could so easily just write any name, which obviously doesn’t mean that they’ve engaged with the issues at stake. Having a class discussion, with perhaps students who feel particularly passionate about a candidate or an issue being able to share those opinions, and those who don’t know anything about election being able to ask questions and form opinions themselves, would, I feel, lead to a more engaged class. Also, going to the caucus was exciting! Much more exciting than just watching people vote. Holding things like mock-caucuses would be so much more exciting for students that holding mock votes, and its common knowledge that the more exciting an event or a topic is, the more likely a student is to learn and remember it. Whilst I’m not suggesting the transfer of the caucus system to the UK, something like it could be implemented in schools as a way of getting young people interested in politics.
Also, one of the lessons that the campaigns taught us was that direct contact was by far the best way to improve voter turnout. During the 2010 election I was at university, not a single person knocked on my door, and my university only held 1 event to do with the election. There’s research that shows that young people are much more likely and excited to participate if they are invited to do so. I feel like more emphasis needs to be put on getting young people to register to vote – you can tell them to ‘Go and Vote!’ all you want, but if they haven’t registered there is no point. Perhaps we should look at ideas like pre-registration at age 16; surely it would be easier to ensure that a higher degree of young people were registered if you could do it whilst you were at school. This was something that I thought was great about the caucuses/primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire; if you weren’t registered, you could literally register on the door and then go in and vote or caucus for your candidate. In terms of getting university students registered – you could hold events (much like a lot of Bernie Sanders’ supporters did at colleges across the US) with music, drinks, prizes, where people register to vote.
“I have always had a fascination with American politics, especially the elections, and that’s what led me to study politics at University. The ability to have our voices heard through the ballot in Britain is being threatened by the very people it is supposed to protect – us, because young people just aren’t voting. I hope being a 45er will help me change this, it is an amazing opportunity to engage with a new political culture and to bring this experience back to the UK.” Kit Evans, 21, Durham University
“I joined 45 for the 45th so I could see the theory of American politics being put into practice on the presidential campaign trail, and to bring back lessons to the UK” Prabhjeet Rai, 21, Aberdeen
On the campaign trail
January 30th – 10:21 pm: Des Moines, Iowa.
The skidding of the landing gear indicated that we had finally ended our long journey, and arrived in Des Moines. We were welcomed by a soon to be familiar chill, and made our way to our hotel, to prepare for our first day on the campaign.
The first thing that struck me was that our initial contact with the Hillary campaign was in a normal residential house. Regular people not only gave up their time for the Hillary campaign, but also their house. This theme stuck with me throughout our time in both Iowa and New Hampshire, the element of this being a grassroots campaign was most definitely at the forefront of my mind. The majority of the campaigning on the ground was carried out by Iowans who strongly believed in Hillary and her ideals, with coordination on a more strategic level provided by employees of the campaign, often from outside of the state. The seamless blending of the professional political group with the grassroots campaigners meant that those doing work on the ground were able to get feedback on which precincts would need more or less targeting.
On our first day campaigning we were sent off to canvass local neighborhoods in Des Moines to get a feel for the experience.
Of course a quintessential part of US elections are the signage and banners that supporters proudly display in their front gardens or on vehicles. It can take one quite aback to wander onto a street plastered with Donald Trump memorabilia. Nevertheless, we continued with our task, and it was quite enlightening to interact with potential voters, to hear their concerns, and why they were thinking of voting for one candidate over another.
We were fortunate enough to experience a campaign rally on the 1st of February. The event, a Hillary Clinton rally, was held in a local high school gym. The queue to enter was long, and the weather was cold, yet spirits were high. To me, the excitement amongst the Iowans to listen to a politician’s speech was fairly odd. I couldn’t fathom a scenario where people would create this kind of electric atmosphere for almost any politician in the UK. There was a definite lack of cynicism amongst the crowd, seemingly anytime Mrs. Clinton spoke a huge cheer erupted from the crowd.
The caucus itself was a strange affair, seemingly a throwback to a bygone era. The count was carried out by hand, and there were numerous interuptions from the electorate. However, the most interesting observation I made was the culture of voting, parents brought their children just to observe the process, and to hopefully give them the basis for their own political lives.
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL |
The media circus
Of course no discussion of a US election, presidential or not, would be complete without a section on the media. In the brief time we had to watch television you could not escape the coverage, not only that but also the seemingly never-ending stream of campaign advertisements. Compared to our own party election broadcasts these were not just more prevalent, they were brash and often on the offensive. On the one had this can be seen to polarise both sides of the political spectrum against one another, reducing the possibility of building any sort of consensus later down the line. However, on the other hand it can also energise the electorate, and engage with those who may not have had any interest in politics before. Nevertheless, it is an aspect of their elections, and one that seems unlikely to
disappear any time soon. During our travels and travails we naturally bumped into many members of the media, they were often excited to learn of what we were doing, with
After Iowa we were on our way to Washington D.C. And whilst the weather ensured the trip was anything but simple, we all arrived in one piece.
The two most intriguing parts of our trip to D.C. were the opportunity to watch a session of both congress and the senate, and also the visit to the British embassy. Although we also had the chance to explore the many famous monuments and museums that the city had to offer.
a few of the 45ers appearing on ABC News a few times, and an article being written in the Independent amongst others.
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
Once again the weather ensured that we had a difficult task in arriving in Manchester.
The most noticeable difference from Iowa to New Hampshire was the much greater visibility of campaign paraphernalia, signs and the like were everywhere in Manchester. Perhaps this was not as noticeable in Iowa due to the much more rural nature of the state, yet it certainly felt as if there was more activity on the ground from the campaigns in New Hampshire.
Much of our activity for the campaign was similar to what we had done in Iowa, with the inclusion of a good helping of snow. You haven’t been canvassing till you’ve done it in a blizzard! Even so, we dutifully went about our business, conscious that we fighting a losing battle. New Hampshire is often said to be a moderating influence after the Iowa caucuses, yet the results, especially for the GOP, told a different story.
During our time in New Hampshire we were given our lodgings thanks to the incredible kindness and generosity of the Hillary Clinton supporters. This allowed to us to get to know some of the reasons for peoples’ support for her, and gain a domestic perspective on the politics of the US. My group were stationed with a local Rabbi and his wife, they had explained how they previously supported Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012, and were now all for Hillary Clinton. They also shared their dismay at the state of affairs within the Republican Party, which became a common theme when talking to many.
On the day of the primary itself, we were tasked with providing visibility for the Hillary campaign outside a number of polling stations. What this essentially entailed was waving signs, and providing a presence to try and sway any still undecided voters. Although throughout our journey many people were very appreciative of our efforts, it was at this point that we were on the receiving end of some negative feedback. Nonetheless, visibility also granted us the opportunity to meet the head honcho herself, Hillary Clinton. It was very endearing that she remembered those she had previously met, and resonated with the personalized nature of the campaign.
Overall, the experience of going to the United States was one that will never be forgotten. We were able to engage with an element of the country that most people our age never will, and as such it was possible to glean some information on how things can be done differently. The manner in which politics was carried out involved an interesting blend of business-like hierarchy, and grassroots campaigning. There was a clear effort to use modern communication techniques to engage with as much of the electorate as possible. The Bernie Sanders campaign was most notable in its efforts in this field to engage with the youth vote. Through the use of the latest social media platforms, such as Snapchat, the Bernie campaign clearly identified and targeted young people as its core demographic. This is not diminish the efficacy of the other campaigns, who were clearly mustering all of their efforts.
Clearly there are some aspects of US elections that would not be compatible in our parliamentary system, yet the groundwork in engaging with the populace should not be ignored.
“I’m a 45er to change politics. To let Northern Ireland, my home, know that change is coming and that together we can make a difference. I want young people to know that we have a powerful voice and that our passion can alter the shape of politics for generations to come.” Mark Young, 23, Ulster University.
“I’m a 45er because I love the American political system and I’m excited to find out ways we can bring the best aspects of political engagement in the US primaries back home to the UK to help promote engagement amongst young people here.” Sam Buckingham, 20 University of Leicester
It’s been little over a month since our return from the political circus know as the United States of America, land of the free, home of the brave, and centre of the vastly outspoken. The rise of the anti-establishment political figures has truly shaken up the political scene in unprecedented ways, capturing the minds of millions across the world. Regardless of support for their values, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have ensured this political race will be one which will linger strong in the memory, and somehow added to the already captivating and incomparable political theatre.
In comparison, our British election system seems fairly mundane: six weeks of gentle sparring between the respective parties, the occasional leaflet and canvasser, and it all seems to be over for another 5 years.
Yet in the US, after a flurry of selfies, door knocks, phone calls, cheering, jeering and cultivating conversations, it’s quite hard to believe we are still treated until November with the on-going election process.
We landed in Iowa in the evening of the 30th of January, two days before the Iowa Caucus and the whole primary process kicked off. Iowa is a quiet, Mid-Western state, little known for more than it’s flowing corn fields, the occasional snow storm and, for around two to three weeks every four years, the political hub of the US. Venturing outside of our hotel in the night, we were greeted by the flickering neon light of a Burger King, a stretch of long, straight roads moulding into the distance and darkness, and a crisp and cutting breeze. Even so, there was a quiet buzz and sense of anticipation in the air, in this seemingly desolate and secluded outskirts of the main city, Des Moines. Coverage on television was 24/7, non-stop, with heated debates between pundits as to whether Donald Trump had gone too far (not for the last time either), would Bernie Sanders be able to lead a substantial fight against Hillary, how would the fresh-faced Marco Rubio fair and if Ted Cruz could cement his position amongst the Evangelical voters.
Often in Britain I get the sense politics is almost a taboo subject, saved for dinner table conversations, and that is it, as the very British mannerisms we hold of not wanting to cause an unnecessary fuss or create offence restricts our political engagement. Yet in the US, the very next morning during our Uber journey towards our HQ for the day, we debated and participated in an active political conversation with our driver, a Donald Trump supporter. He outlined his views, explaining his tiredness of the mainstream establishment, and although we disagreed upon a number of his policies, it was still pleasant to gain an insight into an average American voter’s thought process. I couldn’t dream of having a political conversation with a complete stranger I’d just met for 15 minutes in the UK. This was a running theme throughout the destinations in the US, engaging in a riveting discussion about Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton with our Uber driver who was from an ethnic minority in Washington, to hearing the thoughts of our waitress on the political establishment at a roadside cafe in snowy New Hampshire.
The first day of canvassing in Iowa was met with jitters and nerves: we were literally given a pack with a list of addresses, dropped off at a location and told to met our drivers when we had finished going around all of our houses. Yet, you quickly came to the realisation that the people did not resent us coming to persuade them to vote; they appreciated the effort, were happy to take time from their daily schedules to talk politics, and held a deep interest in our organisation. Even on the day of the primary, canvassing in a more depleted area of the city, people still cared about politics, were still well educated politically and, even though we may not have been supporting the candidate they were going to vote for, loved that we had taken the time and effort from our schedules to participate in the American system.
The Caucus process was fascinating: on the one hand, it was odd to witness the somewhat flawed and out-dated system (the first count of hands miscounted by an extra 200 people!). Yet at the same time, it was great to see democracy stripped down to its rawest form. Seeing people standing up and gathered in groups of support felt a lot more personable, than just acknowledging a name with a tick next to it. Furthermore, the cries from the crowd of ‘Mr Chairman, may I make a suggestion’ truly felt like American’s were the ones shaping their political system, and not left to the judgement of a select few.
As a canvasser and keen advocate for Hillary Clinton, I was fortunate to attend a number of her rallies; some a last gasp push to send out her message and reinforce support, one victory party after he narrow win in Iowa, and was privileged enough to see her defiance after the loss of New Hampshire. I can only liken the process of attending an American political rally to that of attending a major concert. In some cases we were lined up outside of schools and community centres for hours, before travelling through the extensive security before having to use elbows to try and muster a way towards the front of the stage. Of course, we were surrounded by the bright lights of the international and national media, but what I found severely encouraging was the amount of seemingly small and independent journalists around: for example, a girl no older than 12 was travelling around for Kids News, interviewing varying people of all ages in Iowa before the beginning of a Hillary rally. It was amazing to see someone so young taking such an active role in the political system, to see someone so educated and mature about politics at such a young age. Throughout the destinations and rallies we visited, we constantly witnessed young children with Hillary badges, joining in the chants and having an active understanding of why there were there. Politics seems to be a family affair, and that is certainly a reason why the young in America seem to be far more engaged than those in the UK.
Furthermore, when being in their presence, and seeing them on television talking at rallies and events, candidates came across as celebrities. After every single one of Hillary’s rallies, hundreds would linger and rush to the front to try and shake a hand, get a picture or an autograph. I was fortunate enough to meet and shake hands with Hillary, Bill and Chelsea Clinton, whilst also gaining a selfie with the former President. I will not hesitate to admit, being in that close proximity and actually speaking to these amazing public figures you’ve only seen on television does become almost overwhelming, and I was certainly trembling with excitement every time I got near one of the three.
Yet with British politics, there still tends to be a blandness of character surrounding our major officials. Since Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to labour leader, on a personal level, I have seen an increase in youth engagement within British politics. On social media platforms, such as Facebook, I find that people are more willing to express their political views, whether it be through the sharing of videos, photos, memes or just general discussion. Whilst this is encouraging to see, and the rise of a more anti-establishment figure rising through mainstream politics can be attributed to this, as a nation, we can still harness and learn more from American politics and youth engagement. In the US, mainstream celebrities are not afraid to come out in support of their favoured candidate and mock elections are held at elementary schools. In New Hampshire, for breakfast with our lovely host Anne, we ate at Mary-Ann’s Diner, a family based business bustling with young children and families. Plastered across the walls were pictures of numerous politicians who had visited and eaten there, from a range of era’s and political parties, including most of 2016’s hopefuls. Furthermore, ABC news had just finished a political broadcast from inside the Diner, and were returning the next day at 6am to do it all over again.
For me, it is the mix of politics and the personal in the US which lends to its great youth involvement. The cliche of kissing a baby seems to be a reality. And thats not a bad thing. For all the distaste many may look upon the current 2016 election campaign and the perceived craziness surrounding it, when it comes to youth engagement, British politics could definitely learn a thing or two.
“I am a 45er because I want to experience a completely new electoral system. I think reviewing US campaign techniques and bringing what we learn back to the UK to fulfil the programme legacy will mean we can help to make UK politics more accessible to young people in Britain.” Ryan Zaman, 20 University of Leicester
We returned from the US, with our experience of both the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary just over a month ago now. Diving head first into the familiar world of assignment deadlines and lectures, it is kind of hard to stand back and appreciate the importance of the work that we carried out during those ten days we all spent in America. That is, until I open my laptop after a long day to check the news, or social media, or my emails: there are traces of the Presidential election everywhere, as the primaries move along quickly from state to state.
I am proud to be able to say that I have been part of this process for the Hillary campaign, during an election year that will surely represent a turning point in US politics, both in the domestic sphere and on the international stage – regardless of the candidate who will eventually make it all the way to the Oval Office. Consider some of the front-runners, two of which are undoubtedly anti-establishment figures: Sanders – extremely left on the political scale, wanting to break down the Obama legacy and start from scratch; and Trump. Well, he’s just Trump. There are no words. There are jokes: but no words.
So, as my good friend Sam (another 45er) and I got dropped off at Heathrow Departures, I can tell you that there was a few nerves on my part, as I still felt that I had somehow stumbled this far by mistake. I was half-expecting to get turned around at the check-in desk, I was still unsure of how I wad deserving of such a great opportunity. Eagerly wearing my 45forthe45th t-shirt, it was nice to see some familiar faces from the Thanksgiving event back in November as we were checking in (shout out to Alice and Valentina!). It was after I got through security and check-in, seeing Gordon and the rest of the group was the first time I felt I was where I supposed to be. Boarding the plane signified the start of our 45 experiences:
I just want to take the time now to apologise for all of my incredibly long Snapchat stories to all of my friends back home who were, suffice to say, extremely jealous of the goings-on. Sorry guys!
After a long and tiring day of travelling, the whole group finally arrived in the small mid-western state of Iowa, two days before the Caucus. It was cold. Climbing into bed, the first thing I did was order a dominos directly to the room (the pizzas don’t come with garlic and herb dip – what?) before watching a CNN report on the Caucus and sleeping like a baby.
The next day, we all headed straight to the campaign office, got handed our packets and went on our way to work our way through our turfs and knock on doors. At times it was quite comedic trying to find households on the list, as the numbering system seems to follow no perceptible pattern. However, as I was walking down one of the main avenues, a journalist approached me. First asking me general questions about why I was canvassing for Hillary, she soon realised I was British, and then I told her about the programme, about which she seemed very intrigued.
After my first day of campaigning and conversing with Iowans on the street, it was clear to see that politics is dealt with completely differently in American society compared to back home. For many in the UK, everyday life in considered as ‘dinner table rules’ where politics and religion cannot be discussed in fear offending someone. However, in Iowa, whilst I was canvassing, I conversed with a Cruz supporter in the street, without the fear of being shouted down. The same can be said with my first Yellow Cab ride, as the driver was a Trump supporter. Following a similar theme, I have to say that the most poignant debate that I was part in was on a plane on the way to D.C.. Myself and a few other 45ers were sat near a female Democrat supporter and a male Republican. After much debate amongst the group, the Republican stated ‘I don’t mind what you say, as long as you have an opinion. That’s what really matters. I’m pleased that you have something to say.’ This, in a nutshell, is really what we are missing in the UK. Young people need to be encouraged to have a political voice, and should not be met with opposition if it is not complementary to the current political climate and leanings of the government in power. Youth engagement in politics is incredibly important, as it represents our future as a race. After all, that is what we travelled to the US to promote.
The most valuable thing I learnt about youth engagement in Iowa was how politics and the election process are made very much an event for the family. As an advocate for the Hillary campaign, I attended a Clinton rally, and numerous parents took their children along with them to witness, what I thought, might be history in the making. A great example of this is when a young girl (presumably a student at the school) was interviewing rally goers for a kids’ newspaper. The same can be said for the Caucus itself. Parents take their children that are not old enough to vote, and they are classified in the same way as us 45ers at Merrill Middle School: observers. It was also great to see a part of the election process that is completely alien as a Brit. I believe that the key to increased youth voting in the UK is the early exposure of children to the political system, and the American system does this well – even considering the fact that awareness of the election when in the state is ubiquitous due to the numerous TV ads.
Next, we travelled to D.C., where I had one of my most interesting political debates – whilst I was in the back of an Uber. Most of the interesting political conversations I had were in fact in the back of Ubers, as I felt I was hearing the opinion of ‘real people.’ In this particular instance, we discussed the theory that the best thing for the Hillary campaign would be if Trump got the Republican nomination, as it would push a lot of moderates towards the left of the political spectrum.
After D.C. we travelled to the extremely icy New Hampshire. At first there was some confusion with the houses after a hellish day of cancelled and re-arranged flights, after the majority of us were delayed 24-hours, but I soon settled in at Anne’s hous- daughter of Special Assistant to President Kennedy. She was so welcoming and just want to thank her for being so hospitable, and telling us so many interesting stories! Here in New Hampshire, after Hillary’s 0.3% win in Iowa, the tension was palpable, with the campaign co-ordinators putting pressure on all of us as volunteers to work our hardest. I also went to the polls with my host, meeting up with some of the other 45ers, and working on visibility. Throughout my time in New Hampshire, I got the impression that the primary process and volunteering was a lot more of a community based effort, which I believe is another thing we can take back to the UK: there needs to be more of a political dialogue within local communities.
Despite the fact that Hillary lost to Sanders in the New Hampshire Primary, I have to say that I felt that this was the most genuine that I had seen her, after three times of hearing her speak. It gave credibility to her campaign, showing how important the voters were in her campaign, and the defeats cannot be dwelled upon: one has to look forward to future victories.
In conclusion, I feel I have learnt many valuable lessons regarding youth engagement in politics on this trip, as well as how to conduct myself with the press. With regards to the legacy, I feel that I can go forward making a positive impact in youth politics in the UK, increasing engagement.
5 states + D.C
One great experience.
Ryan Zaman, March 2016.
‘I studied American Studies and English at Sussex and lucky enough to spend a year living in Amherst, MA. I am fascinated by the history, culture and politics of a nation that is so often in turmoil and yet continues to influence the world in such complex ways. I joined 45ForThe45th to experience grassroots political activism and return to the UK with a better idea of how to get more young people engaged in politics. Saba Husain, 23, Graduate, University of Sussex
“I want to see change in the way young people view politics. Getting involved in the American Election will give me the opportunity to encourage other young people to get involved and learn how they too can make a difference.” Zara Afalobi, Graduate University of Kent
Person over Party?
Observing the Iowa and New Hampshire Presidential Primaries
This year I have been given a once in a lifetime opportunity. To observe and volunteer in the 45th presidential primary election as part of an initiative called 45forthe45th. The programme aims to inspire young people to play an active role in British politics by learning from the 2016 American Presidential election. On January 30th we set out to attend both the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary to understand what makes the American election so special and what we can learn from it in this country.
The first time I voted was in 2010. I had turned 18 a few months before and I’ll be honest I had no idea what I was doing. Throughout my years of secondary school we had spoken briefly about politics in History classes but not about current political parties. All the parties seemed to be the same and no one, except my parents, had ever spoken to me about the election process. I was completely overwhelmed but I felt that I needed to make a choice and I couldn’t pass up my right to vote. This moment was pivotal in inspiring me to do more, know more and inform others. How many other 18 years old eligible to vote had no idea what they were doing when they arrived at the polls, I couldn’t possibly be the only one. What I needed was someone knocking on my door telling me about policies that would later affect me and my whole generation. Informing me on what their candidate stood for and how they compared with their opposition, yet this never happened. Not once did someone approach me in the street or knock on my front door but in the United States this is completely unheard of.
On the Campaign Trail
The Iowa Caucus was our first stop on the campaign trail and it was every bit as exciting as I had imagined. Once we were given precincts, a list of names and the respective literature for that area we were sent on our way. It was a daunting task but one that I couldn’t wait to begin. Campaigning door to door was often made problematic by our unfamiliarity with the area because unlike the UK housing America tends to be more spread apart and often does not follow a numerical order like our own. Once I did speak to voters what struck me most was how thankful they were for my efforts to go out and canvass. There I stood disturbing their quiet Sunday afternoon confirming who they would vote for, how they were getting to the polls and any other information required for my sheet. To most this might seem inconvenient and bordering on badgering the voter but to the citizens of United States this is the norm and, on the most part, they are happier for it. I was frequently thanked and told to ‘carry on the good fight’ by many of the voters and received even more praise when they discovered just how far I’d come to support the campaign.
As I continued on it became apparent that the voters’ involvement in a campaign stemmed from the personal touches that their candidates gave them. Voters felt a connection and it seemed that everyone in Iowa and New Hampshire had seen or even spoken with their chosen candidate on issues that effected them. Whilst campaigning in New Hampshire I met a woman who had recently attended a Hillary rally a few days before. She spoke of how she had arrived early and taken a seat in the front row, had her photo with her and then proceeded to ask her a question on Environmental policy. The questions don’t stop at policy though, voters across America are concerned with the personal lives of those who will represent them at the highest level. Whilst out canvassing in New Hampshire I spoke with a woman who was struggling to decide between Sanders and Clinton. I asked her what her main concerns were expecting answers ranging from healthcare to education, however this was not the case. She went on to explain how she felt she could not trust Hillary after, in her words, “everything that had happened”. It seemed that the indiscretions of the past reared their head far too often when people were considering their choice of who to vote for.
Reflecting back on the Caucus I am reminded of how open this process is. Some may say it is archaic and foolish to continue such practices. Whilst others see it as defining of what the public really think. I like to believe it flits between both these understandings and although I was somewhat sceptical it does, in its own way, work. On the night of the Caucus we were allowed to observe the action first hand at a polling station located in the area we had been canvassing in. Once all participants had been registered and counted the process soon began. After several recounts and questions to the chairman over how the vote should even be conducted the caucus was over and Clinton declared the winner for out polling station. Although it can seem a little chaotic voting this way does seem to have some positives. When canvassing people were very straightforward about who they were voting for as they knew later that evening they would stood in front of their friends and neighbours physically showing who they had chosen. There is no way a ballot box can be stuffed or votes miscounted in large amounts because everyone is there participating at once. Despite this there are some negative outcomes from the way of voting. Many chose not to attend a caucus because they did not want to wait/stand for the duration of the process, we had several recounts to determine how many voters were on each side as they first tally overestimated by nearly 200 people. Finally when it came to persuading those who were undecided in their vote it seemed less about policy and more about proximity. People on either side used their personal knowledge to persuade people to join them rather than the policies of each individual candidate. The Iowa Caucus was certainly an experience and to be able to witness it first hand is a real privilege but the question remains is can we in Britain learn anything from this? Although we cannot adopt the Caucus system into our own voting agenda we can learn from the openness and willingness to share political thought. Every individual stood up and declared who they would vote for and seemed truly impassioned to do so acting as if, because they are the first state to vote, it was there duty to represent for their country. We certainly do not have that in Britain and I think we are worse off for it. We need to bring the passion back into politics. For too long people have felt disengaged and uninterested yet across the pond people live and breathe their politics as if each candidate were a family member to them.
What can we learn from this?
Americans connect with their politicians in a way that is frankly unheard of in the United Kingdom. Their candidates hold rallies and thousands of people turn out for them each time to be inspired by their leader. We were fortunate enough to attend a Clinton rally whilst in Iowa and it was amazing to see how important she was to some people. She was not merely just another politician she was their politician, it seems every step she takes her supporters take one with her. The journey to the White House is not just for the candidates but for all the supporters who take that journey with her. In fact any of the candidates, even the wicked republican that is Donald Trump, has a following in a way that politicians in this country do not. I believe this is because Americans invest in a particular person it is not the party in which they eventually elect but the individual that happens to represent that party. When the election comes round in November who is standing for each party we of course stand as either a Democrat or a Republican but to the people voting it is the individual person that truly matters and not always the party they represent.
It is common in many American high schools to have compulsory lessons in Government studies and I believe that this lays the foundations for keeping people focused and knowledgeable about their election process. In British schools we are given very little guidance as to the voting system, how parliament works and the difference between each party. I believe that we need to target young people not when they are eighteen and ready to vote but younger. If we implement something now for children in Year 9 or 10 then when next election takes place in 2020 we can hopefully see a change in the voting statistics. What is fundamental is that we act now and we act fast. At the moment we are going through the EU referendum and I have been appalled by the number of people who firstly knew nothing of the vote and secondly did not even know they were eligible to vote in it. The process has taught me a lot about why people vote the way they do and why people even vote at all. I hope that from this I am able to start a change in this country that sees higher voter turnout amongst 18-25 year olds and more participation in politics overall.
I joined 45ForThe45th because I am passionate about politics and I want to help increase awareness of the role young people can play in the political process in the UK. Shannon O’Loughlin, 19, Cardiff
I am currently in my second year studying History and Politics at Cardiff University. I am a 45-er because I believe in the importance of voting and getting individuals’ views represented in Politics. I want to use my experience of the U.S Presidential campaign to help inspire young people in the UK to get involved in the political process and to encourage them to vote.” Lizzie Harding
I think the US election generates an interest in politics unrivalled across the world. I’m looking forward to observing, learning and getting stuck in to the campaigning process, and hopefully bringing the best and most enthusing qualities of the experience back home to encourage other young people to get involved! Lloyd Hatton, 21 Queen Mary University London
American sports ADJ – PL NOUN
Well financed. Supporter base.
Gymnasiums and stadiums. Exhausting.
Baseballs caps and foam fingers.
Contest. Personalities and players.
American politics ADJ – PL NOUN
see American sports
American politics and American sports have more in common than is perhaps desired or comfortably acknowledged, nevertheless, the similarities are there and that is far from a bad thing. American politics has proved itself to be one of great excitement and widespread interest, and I’d like to explore how these sporting qualities of American politics could best be developed and implemented in the UK.
Finance. Of course the US has a problem with ‘big-money’ buying elections and large Super PACs purchasing huge amounts of advertising time on television, but the American political system is also one of grassroots donor movements. For both candidates for the Democratic nominee it was a sign of great campaign strength to have a large base of donors, with boasts of in excess of a million donors being spouted by both candidates. Rally speeches and television interviewees seemed keen to highlight the importance of hundreds of thousands of Americans ‘chipping in’, and email requests often asked for just one dollar. Of course political parties in the UK seek funding from members of the public, but both Democratic campaigns seemed to offer a more community based fundraising drive, keen to use donations to give voters a stake in the campaign and possibly draw them into further involvement with the campaign. The emphasis upon very small donations helped to create an environment whereby anybody can donate and be a contributor to a campaign, helping to gain parity with big-money in politics. For young people specifically, this presented itself as a realistic stepping-stone to get involved in political campaigns, taking ownership of politics but without bankrupting oneself.
Supporters. Election campaigns in both the UK and the USA hold themselves to a tested campaigning phenomenon: doorstep canvassing. Anecdotally, it would appear that whether in Italy, France, Germany or Austria the concept of a conversation about politics on the doorstep is a very foreign one on the continent. It is however, a campaign technique I have participated in in both the UK and the US, and one I wholly applaud. Doorstep canvassing isn’t just about politics, it’s about offering a friendly face to what can otherwise be seen as a distant and corporate campaign on the national media stage, talking about everything from the election to your mutual love of Labradors! If canvassing is about discussing substantive political issues that matter to most people, you can be sure to have a large number of positive and genuine conversations. Consequently, it seems a shame that only a marginal seat in the UK witnesses widespread doorstep canvassing; instead of every town, village and city as was the case in the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary. Doorstep canvassing is often considered an old fashioned method of campaigning, but it has truly stood the test of time. Knock on the doors (not too early!) of student accommodation and you can have a positive political discussion and engage students in a campaign, it’s direct and simple. Moreover, building up community-based campaigns, which were especially clear in the smaller towns of New Hampshire, seems most beneficial. If a small town can offer a house or shop as a political base then you find yourself embedded within a community, with an open-house for anybody to get involved. Friendly local faces, free food, and some autonomy to allow a community to run their local campaign provides an enthusing and exciting campaign that can bring people from all backgrounds into a locally fuelled and directed campaign.
Gymnasiums. I visited several more of these than I normally have any desire to, but thankfully not too much exercise was involved. The UK has party conference season – an increasingly stuffy and corporate affair for the larger parties, the odd town hall meeting, and every once in a while a leadership contest that creates a significant following. But in the US, come election season, the gymnasium seems to be the place to be! Spending hours finding somewhere to park, lining up in the cold and the dark, and then a frisk from the Secret Service, it all seems quite an effort, but thousands seem to do so with enthusiasm and great interest. Here, the parallels between sport and American politics seem strongest, a great energy surrounds these local public rallies, people enjoy conversing, showing their support and hearing a heavy dose of visionary oratory, it really is most invigorating. If support for a football cub is shown by waving your scarf, singing songs and having a bit of fun with like-minded supporters, then the same is certainly true for American politics. Schools and universities are always the perfect venue to throw open their doors to a public rally; not simply for academic discussions, but for public dialogues full of fun and energy, and motivated by a strong and positive campaign. The typical American political rally seems to revel in being nothing short of a spectacle extravaganza, acting as quite the galvanising force. Yes, it may be a little frenzied for us Brits, but if it means greater prominence for politics, higher visibility of campaigns and voters actively participating in campaigns then perhaps we need to promote rallies and similar events here in the UK, lending politics at least some parity to that of sports and music.
Exhausting. The duration of the selection process of both the Democratic and the Republican nominees seems to be an area of great contention for the American people, alongside the seemingly endless news cycle that obsesses over each and every state election, months, if not years in advance. Overall, I think it would produce a similar and weary attitude if our election campaigns also lasted upwards of 12 months; however, long-term campaigning does appear to have some clear advantages. In smaller and early voting US states, such as Iowa and New Hampshire, a long-term campaign meant that a remarkably high number of voters were able to meet candidates, often more than once. Campaigners could also have multiple conversations with voters over a range of topical issues, and a long chain of public events ensured full and insightful debates. This more long-term style of politics is not unheard of in the UK, the 2014 Scottish independence referendum was a debate that began in earnest almost a year before the referendum day, and yet turnout was a record breaking 85% and public engagement was near universally high. Perhaps, long-term campaigns can be beneficial if the discussions and debates are deemed to be substantive and relevant to everyday life, all while the national conversation seeks to engage voters of all demographics. Clearly, a balance needs to be struck between a campaign period that does not become tiresome or obsessive over the trivial, but does offer a full and purposeful debate that grasps the opportunity to rouse as many voters interest as possible.
Foam fingers. Vibrant and animated public support for politics! Perhaps all a little too much for the reserved British, what with our delicate sensibilities. It would appear that widespread visibility and displays of support for a campaign or candidate is where a fracture between UK and US election cycles is very clear. However, if a Brit happily wears a t-shirt from their favourite music concert, displays a poster of their favourite sports players and a pin badge for their chosen charity, then why not show similar support for a political movement too? Again, this all seems a little much, a little over-the-top, and a little un-British, but perhaps some convergence wouldn’t necessarily be a negative change. Political interest and enthusiasm could perhaps be better boosted if the visibility of a campaign wasn’t the pursuit of only party members and the odd student movement, and instead became something a little more commonplace. This does not mean a culture of ‘attack ads’ and negative billboarding has to flourish, but simply an environment where campaigns are visible in our neighbourhoods and communities, which could help promote the significance and importance of an election. If voters know there is an election taking place, and they too often do not, and that people all across their community are engaging and forming opinions during an important political time, then they may feel more compelled to do likewise. If public and material support for a party or candidate becomes the mainstream, perhaps a more widespread voting culture and genuine engagement will become more mainstream for the public also.
Contest. The UK and US domestic political stage are dominated by a two-party system, both of which in one form or another appear to be polarising. Here, it becomes increasingly unclear as to whether a polarising system is one that engages or disconnects the public. On one hand voters prefer cooperation and compromise that works for the public good, but this could come at the loss of conviction politicians and visionary thinking, are the conventional politics of John Kasich and Hillary Clinton simply too pragmatic? Whilst on the other hand polarising politicians such as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders can draw non-voters traditionally alienated from American politics back into the political process, but departing from the mainstream often risks political deadlock and a dogmatic approach that overlooks the public good. Overall, the political parties, whether offering the electorate more radical candidates or those considered more conventional, needs to make sure that the public good and fresh political ideas are always nurtured, so as to balance political practicality and stimulating political thought. The Sanders campaign has perhaps executed an unprecedented feat in its success of engaging ‘millennial’ voters previously uninvolved in the political process, but his limited electoral success thus far perhaps suggests this has come at the cost of wider success. This campaigning method is a relatively rare and precarious phenomenon, perhaps it is best the task of schools, civil society, local authorities and universities to register young voters, raise election awareness and ensure citizens are informed of the political process. For both the US and the UK this seems to be a much needed development, as parties and candidates seem reluctant to divert vital resources and capital towards engaging with people whose voting turnout is historically unreliable, whilst those who do seem to pay a price at the ballot box. Instead, if these aforementioned groups and organisations were to play a proactive role then consistent and widespread youth involvement in politics could be far greater.
Personalities. Personality seems to be a far greater area of attention for the American political process than that of the UK. Policy and substantive debate should never be forgotten during an election or campaign, but in an increasingly open, direct and digitally connected society it would appear that personality politics is increasingly anticipated and expected by the public. When speaking to caucus goers in Iowa, Bernie’s ‘honesty’ and ‘straight talking’ manner was popularly espoused by many, as were Hillary’s ‘experience’ and ‘hard-working’ qualities, these notions certainly seemed to have parity with any policy proposal or economic plan. The media also seem keen to test public opinion concerning the personality traits of candidates, and candidates are all too aware of the need to endear themselves to the public. This is also deeply interwoven into the projection of a candidate’s history and life achievements; such as marriage, family, political office and acts or courage and heroism; these are all considerable factors that influence voting intention. With political cynicism and apathy in the UK commonplace it would appear that the ‘champion’ politician is in short supply, but perhaps it would be helpful to have several champions in order to rebuild some faith and trust into our political system. Of course much of the American public is cynical of its politicians also, but it certainly appears that politicians in America are allowed to communicate their qualities, and embrace their own history and qualities as credentials upon which to win elections, creating political champions and deeper personalities for voters to rally around and connect with. It may indeed be because American politics is more orientated around individual politicians rather than political parties, but this cultural difference from the UK does help to provide accessible, striking and positive personalities that those previously disengaged from politics can align and relate with.
The sports analogy is probably wearing a little thin now, and is perhaps a little tenuous too, but I hope the points and insights still stand to reason. American politics is fuelled by activism, furious competition, public spectacles and the like, and despite its many faults this does seem to create an atmosphere of great energy and eagerness. If the UK seeks to reinvigorate the political process and increase voter engagement then some of this energy should certainly be replicated here in the UK by political parties, candidates and politicians, but also the media, charities and alike and civil society. Politics should be a community occasion, a fun and accessible one too, American politics has certainly shown itself to be keen to fulfil all of these criteria, and just maybe it’s time we took note and started building upon these criteria too.
“I have a passion for politics and education so the opportunity to be part of a once in a generation presidential campaign and also get the chance to increase youth engagement with politics back home meant 45ForThe45th was an organisation I had to be involved with.” James Tune, 20 Durham University
For a week in March 2016 I was given the opportunity to take part in the Ohio presidential primary for the 2016 U.S presidential election with the 45forthe45th programme. This was a truly enriching and engaging experience where we were able to learn valuable lessons about how to better engage young people with politics. We are aiming to use what we learned in Ohio to help improve youth voter engagement back here in the UK. Through my experiences in the USA I have formulated a number of recommendations for how we can improve youth voter engagement in the UK.
Grassroots campaigning – On the campaign trail in Ohio there were many examples of campaigns actively reaching out to young people. Events were planned on college campuses and campaigns specifically targeted areas with large college populations. This is something which we can do a better job of in the UK. We should be going into schools and universities and talking to students about the issues which affect them. It is often advanced that young people are apathetic about politics but I believe this is false. Whilst in Ohio I met a group of young campaigners who were protesting outside the Ohio Supreme Court to try and gain the vote in the presidential primaries for 17 year olds. Their passion for the issues was clear for everyone to see, and our aim should be to make all young people as passionate about politics. If we can actively reach out to young people and talk about the issues which they care about, then we can go a long way to addressing the issue of low voter turnout amongst young people.
Role of social media – One of the most striking lessons I learnt from spending time with all the U.S presidential campaigns was the widespread use of social media. Social media has changed how people engage with politics, through providing a platform which is accessible to all where issues and events can be discussed in real time in the public sphere. Every U.S presidential campaign we spent time with in Ohio had a very sophisticated social media team which played a vital role in both getting the message of the candidate communicated and engaging with the electorate. I was in particular extremely impressed by Governor John Kasich’s dedicated social media team, who not only communicated the Governor’s message but also actively sought out and engaged with the people who engaged with their own published content. The potential for social media to increase accessibility with politics is a lesson we can learn in the UK. In particular this is true for engaging with young people since for many young people social media is the platform through which they engage with the issues that they care about. If UK political campaigns can develop dedicated and extensive social media teams to actively engage with young voters then we will see more young people becoming engaged with politics and an increase in the number of young people voting.
“I’m so excited to take part in one of the biggest elections in the world and to help encourage young people in the UK to get involved in the political process. Luke Hallewell, 20 Durham University
What I learned from the 2016 Ohio Presidential Primaries
Having spoken with people in many different employments, one significant gripe with the American political system was the issue with the role money plays in politics. There was a considerable amount of disillusionment with candidates such as Hillary Clinton and most of the Republican field, simply because they have been backed by corporations and interest groups. What was fascinating was a conversation with a taxi driver, who had been a life long Democrat, but stated that he would either vote for Trump or for Sanders, purely because he felt that they would not sell their soul for financial gain, whilst the other candidates were simply untrustworthy. Of course, money has played a prominent role in American politics for many decades, especially with the rise of super PACs, and seemingly unlimited funding from wealthy individuals. It seemed as if 2016 was the year that people finally realised that money ran the political system, and I suspect that this could be a driver to increase turnout, as finally issues that everyone cares about are being brought to the fore, not just obscurities.
Another key observation was the centricity of America’s greatness across members of the public. One of the single-most important reasons that candidates either succeeded or failed was due to the public’s perception of whether a candidate would do good things for America, especially concerning cementing America’s status as the greatest nation in the world. Members of the public largely suggested that they supported candidates with fiery rhetoric that would not stand for the status quo. This is the culmination of years of quiet frustration, and now that candidates are ready to give these people a voice, their concerns about America’s position both domestically and internationally can now be heard. It is frightening to think that anybody not branded as a patriot could easily lose an election, even if they are the most credible candidate, and this only entrenches the antiquated system of ‘democracy’ that the United States boasts is the ‘best in the world’.
In terms of accessibility, it seems as if British politics is quite closed off, and only a select group of people, namely party members and politicians are a part of the campaign. What I observed in Ohio was an atmosphere of inclusivity, whereby anyone could get involved in campaigning, and with rallies and visibility events, awareness was raised and people felt as if they were invaluable to the candidates. Also, whilst partaking in phone calls to constituents, I noticed that options were available to give people lifts to polling stations. This made me extremely proud to be part of an operation that had a personal touch to it, caring about members of the public, and this tactic hopefully will have helped to increase accessibility for all members of the public. Visibility helps to get people invigorated, and the more people that observe, whether they agree or disagree with a candidate, the greater likelihood that people feel included in the political debate. Politicians need to bring politics to the people; otherwise they won’t approach it automatically.
One of the most striking aspects of the presidential primary campaigns in Ohio was the sheer passion and determination from the supporters to do all they could to help secure their candidate’s victory. Along with the visibility events and cheering sections at the Ohio democratic dinner, it was clear that politics really mattered to these people, especially given how crucial the 2016 presidential election will be. In the united kingdom, there is little passion, especially amongst young people, but I think that reengagement can, and will happen, if the political process is made more glamorous by means of advertising and public events, and when there is a lot at stake, people seem to be more proactive. If candidates engaged more with the public, and held big events that enticed those disillusioned with the political process in, it could herald the start of an age of engagement, but only if candidates assume a sort of ‘rock-star’ status perhaps, and continually approach members of the public in an invigorating and exciting manner. These observations only scratch the surface of the work that needs to be done in order to increase youth participation in British politics, and as we continue to analyse our experiences in the United States and relay them back to politicians, media outlets and students, this programme’s legacy will become even more prominent.
To summarise, having observed the Ohio Presidential Primaries first-hand, including Kasich’s Primary Victory Party, a Donald Trump rally, Hillary Clinton’s Ohio Headquarters, and the Ohio Democratic Legacy Dinner, I have seen how the political process can involve young people to a greater degree than in the United Kingdom. Accessibility is absolutely vital, and if party leaders came to the people, and the media made the whole political process more exciting, then young people would be encouraged greater. Another recommendation for political parties is to address issues key to young people, as that will inspire a new generation, but if no young people vote, then parties may as well address the needs of other age demographics. Open events and approaching young people is the best remedy for political apathy aside from education, which in my opinion is the best way to involve young people in British politics, so we can resolve the issue of our democratic deficit.
“The US elect the leader of the free world and a 45er I have a chance to be part of that and also to bring back my experience and encourage youth engagements with politics here in the UK. Liam Gill 19, Durham University
“Im a 45er because I believe that after gaining valuable insights on our trips to the US we can make young people in the UK passionate about politics again.” Max Lindon 19 Durham University
45 for the 45th Ohio Trip Report
My time in Ohio was a fascinating opportunity to experience the workings of the US political system first hand, and to draw comparisons with the UK. Whilst I would not recommend that UK election system becomes more like the American one, there are several ideas that the UK could borrow from the US in order to improve young voter engagement.
The most significant flaw of the US system of primary elections to choose presidential candidates is the political polarisation that it produces. There is no better example of this than Donald Trump, who has been given a platform for his bigoted populism through the primary system, despite significant opposition from within the Republican party. Primary elections give huge amounts of power to the most politically engaged voters, who also tend to have the most extreme views, rather than the moderate voters who skip primaries but turn up on general election day. Therefore, even if a moderate candidate manages to prevail in the primary, they will inevitably have been dragged to the right/left on some issues during the campaign. This might explain why many of the voters that I spoke to felt that none of the candidates on offer represented their views, and that they were picking the best of a bad bunch. Increasing polarisation can put off young voters, who tend have a lower sense of party affiliation, and so find the portrayal of US elections by both parties as a dialectical struggle between absolute good and absolute evil to be absurd. Increased polarisation also encourages the kind of ugly scenes that put young people off politics altogether, such as the recent scrap in the media between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump over their wives.
The UK has already experienced the side effects of the primary system through the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour party leadership. Mr Corbyn’s hard-left views represent those of the 250,000+ people who voted for him in the leadership election, but not those of the many millions more who usually vote Labour in the General Election but didn’t vote in the leadership election. If the Conservative party chose its leader in the same way as Labour, we would doubtless see a similar outcome, with a far-right, Eurosceptic leader backed by the members of the Conservative party but not by its traditional voting base. Therefore, it is arguably more democratic to have the elected MP’s decide the party leader, as they tend to choose leaders who represent the views of the wider electorate rather than just the party’s most loyal members.
From my experience of working on the Ohio campaigns I found that very little work was done to target young people. Most of the people that I spoke to on the phone or in person whilst campaigning was middle-aged and older. Indeed, there seemed to be an active effort to target pensioners, which makes tactical sense given that they are one of the demographics that is most likely to vote. The campaigns all try to target people who have voted for candidates from their party in the past, meaning that those who will be voting in their first election or those who have yet to be identified as affiliates to either party are ignored. One notable exception to this trend was the Bernie Sanders campaign, for whom young voters are absolutely essential. However, the branch that we visited was hardly a shining example of how to engage young voters, as it was blighted by terrible organisation and was technologically way behind the other campaigns. Although almost all of the young people we spoke to expressed support for Senator Sanders, many of them seemed somewhat disengaged in the political process and probably didn’t show up on election day. This problem was exacerbated by the fact that they were college students and many couldn’t vote because they were registered at their parents’ house rather than their student accommodation, and this was complicated even further when they came from out of state. This is an example of an issue where the US should learn from the UK, as in the UK it is relatively straightforward to be registered to vote in two different parts of the country and students are made aware of this frequently.
The technology used by the Ohio campaigns was very impressive, and should be a key part of any UK attempt to increase turnout by young people. Working at the Kasich campaign we used a highly effective phone-bank system called i360 talk which allowed you to move on to the next caller at the press of a button and to fill in the voter survey on the phone display. However, this technology wouldn’t be ideal for engaging young voters, who rarely have landlines and whose phone numbers often won’t yet appear on the databases of voters to call. A far more effective piece of technology to use would be i360 Walk or an app similar to it. i360 Walk is an app used whilst canvassing that shows you which houses to target and allows you to fill in the survey data on your phone. That data is then sent back to the central database which can then develop a picture of how much of the area has been covered, which neighbourhoods need to be revisited etc. The app also allows for specific demographics to be targeted, which could be highly useful in engaging young people. For example, as a white, male, teenage university student the app would attempt to find other people who fit my demographic profile, in the hope that voters would be more likely to listen to people who look and talk just like them. If a database similar to that run by i360 could be built for UK political parties (perhaps drawing on the open electoral register), then such apps could be used to get young people to engage their peers in politics far easier than by adopting a scattergun approach. i360 was created by the billionaire Koch brothers, who are known for donating millions to Republican causes. There are also other examples of voter databases, such as Voter Vault (Republican) and Vote Builder (Democrat). One obstacle for constructing such a database in the UK could be the lack of funding available to UK political parties compared to American ones, although it is important to preserve the culture of cheap campaigns in order to avoid the American problem of candidates being beholden to special interests.
One of the most interesting experiences of the Ohio trip was being inside the Kasich campaign’s spin room whilst the Florida Republican debate was happening. It was clear that social media was very important for the Kasich team as it enabled them to spin in real time, for example by making a joke about a mistake Kasich made or by immediately tweeting out supporting evidence when he described one of his policies. Social media is a fantastic tool for engaging young people in politics as many young people spend a lot of time on social media platforms and use them as their primary news outlet. One of the reasons campaigns should attempt to target young people more is that they tend to be vocal about their political beliefs and will be able to engage many of their friends through social media. UK political parties should use social media to engage young people as it can create a butterfly effect as content is shared between friends and followers. By placing content on platforms that young people use, UK parties will be able to engage young people much more effectively. For example, in the US YouTube co-hosted the South Carolina Democratic Debate with ABC, expanding its audience to young people who tend to shun traditional platforms such as television and newspapers.
Overall, whilst there are many flaws in the US primary election system and in the way that their parties can often ignore young people, UK parties should try to emulate the way that their US counterparts use technology in particular. Targeting young people through traditional campaigning can be enhanced by assembling voter databases, and UK parties should also step up their efforts on social media and other non-traditional platforms where young people spend their time.
By Max Lindon
‘Im a 45er because it is an incredible opportunity to be part of one of the biggest political campaigns in the world. I want to share my experience in the US with other young people here in the UK and help engage them in the world of politics.” Kieron Wilson, 20 University of Salford
“I joined 45ForThe45th to help encourage young people in the UK to get involved in politics. I want to go to the US and discover more about their political campaign process and use this information to help engage people in Britain.” Asal Sarah Reyhanian, Queen Mary University London
“I’m a 45er because politics fascinates me and this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to both be involved in the Presidential campaign and to get young people to reengage with politics in Britain.” Tessa Hynes, 20 Cardiff University
Lessons from the Ohio Primary 2016
There is a massive issue with youth engagement in politics of the UK, and resultantly as a generation we are often considered as an afterthought. But why shouldn’t we be? Our reluctance to express ourselves at the ballot box gives politicians little incentive to appeal to us or to target us as a key demographic. This has been the case until relatively recently, where popularity amongst youth voters has surged in controversial political debates and in the backing of controversial political figures, however political apathy is arguably still consistently high among our generation. The whole purpose for our trip to the USA was to observe and learn from the campaigning tactics used by those in the running to be the 45th President of the United States and see whether we could bring these lessons back with us to adapt them to the UK system in order to overcome the overwhelming levels of apathy amongst young people.
Every day we would head to the Ohio campaign office for Clinton, Kasich, or Bernie. Their campaign was basically centred on the traditional methods of phone banking and canvassing. The Kasich office had much more sophisticated equipment, with automated phone systems, iPads and downloadable apps, whereas Hillary was like a time warp with classic “burner” cell phones and paper directories. However, no campaign demonstrated the level of youth activism to the extent of Senator Bernie Sanders. His campaign was so grassroots, his campaign office we visited was in Ohio State University accommodation and run by students. On my experience of canvassing for him, every single young person I spoke to in OSU territory was feeling the Bern so intensely they may as well have been on fire. This was admirable and a departure from the abusive rhetoric you hear from many students towards politicians in the UK.
We had some incredible opportunities that placed us right at the heart of campaigning in America’s most essential swing state. We attended a Trump rally, the Ohio Democratic Legacy Dinner – where we watched speeches from Bernie and Hillary, a Kasich rally, and Kasich’s results party in Cleveland. What also struck me about our time in Ohio was the high level of youth engagement. Whatever end of the political spectrum, it was rejuvenating to see people as young as 16 engaged in the political scene and putting their opinions out there. It just so happened that our time in Columbus coincided with a court-ruling declaring that people as young as 16 were able to vote in the Ohio Primaries. While many people discredited this, as these young voters would not be able to vote in the General Election, I think it demonstrates perseverance from the political establishment and from young people to engage with one another – whereas that age group is often forgotten about and their opinions marginalised here in the UK, with the exception of their involvement in IndyRef.
From this whole experience, I cannot stress enough to politicians the importance of making more effort to re-engage with the people who are voting for them. There is not enough being done in the UK to connect to young voters, students and young people are more and more being considered as an afterthought. A lot of people just don’t care, and feel as though they are being cheated by the UK political system – but they shouldn’t have to feel this way. Trump’s die-hard supporters, while having somewhat questionable motives, feel so personally about him because they feel like they’ve connected with him. Somehow they feel a personal connection with the man who leaves his rally in a private jet. Naturally there are limitations to connecting with the apathetic – but more must be done by those in a position of authority to connect with those who feel have drawn the proverbial short straw in society. Politicians should all have the same capacity to create a movement as inspiring to young people as Bernie Sanders has successfully managed to do in America. Though he has been unsuccessful, he has successfully mobilised an entire generation of voters who would otherwise be apathetic. Obama was also successful in doing this, which arguably was instrumental to his victories.
Perhaps the key method that UK politicians should utilise to reconnect with youth voters is social media. A recent poll conducted as part of an assessment at university demonstrated that an overwhelming percentage of 18-25 year olds receive their political information through social networks. This reinforced findings Ipsos from MORI that over a third of young people obtain their news through social media. While political parties have dabbled on online platforms, they are yet to find an effective method of communicating with young people. Politicians should be particularly careful as to not sound patronising in this respect as well, with the most recent example being the “Ravin, Chattin, Roamin” campaign circulated by the Remain camp. The single biggest lesson I want to express from our time in America is to not forget about us as a generation. Youth voters, though a small percentage of total voters, need to feel encouraged that their votes are not being wasted instead of being marginalised on the assumption that they are more likely not to turnout.
” Im A 45er because I think the American system of politics is so uniquer and intense and I believe there are lessons we can learn from the trips and bring back to the UK to revitalise our own politics. Olivia James-Hough, 19 Durham University
“I’m a 45er because I just love politics. I love how passionate and exciting it can be and I think we have a lot to learn from the US Presidential elections, lessons we can bring back and help engage young people at home”. Harry Chalkin, 22 University of Aberdeen
“I have always been incredibly interested in both American and British politics and I can’t wait for the opportunity to share my experience of being on the U.S campaign trail with young people in the UK.” Beth Gray 21 University of Birmingham
Part One: Iowa
Iowa was never particularly a place that I had imagined visiting, “the land of despair and corn” was a phrase I had often heard, forming the image of a desolate empty space that I imagined when thinking of the mid-West state. Despite this, it is well known that Iowa plays a huge role in the world of American politics. Arriving into an empty Des Moines airport fulfilled all of my expectations, empty luggage carrousel’s covered in ‘Iowa Caucus’ signs setting the tone for the trip. Once again this tiny unpopulated area was becoming the centre of the political universe for a few important days.
The next two days involved my first experience of campaigning, something we were thrown straight into the next afternoon, going door-to-door over the next two days in order to remind registered democrats to caucus and support Hillary Clinton.
On my first night in Iowa I was able to attend a Hillary Clinton rally at a local high school. I wasn’t expecting to even be in the same room as her over the two weeks so this was a fantastic opportunity! To psych up the crowd an insightful short video into the history of Hillary Clinton was shown, including the clip of Hillary at the women’s rights conference in China 17 years ago, a clear technique to highlight Hillary’s extensive and clear experience. First of all her daughter Chelsea and husband President Bill Clinton spoke and introduced her, emphasizing why the crowd should vote for her. Following this was the main event, Hillary herself- who gave a fantastic speech about her policies including an impassioned plea for women’s rights and the need to finally shatter the glass ceiling that has been preventing women from reaching the same heights as men, including reaching the White House.
The following evening- caucus night was spent observing a caucus at a local middle school, one which was housing both a Republican and Democratic election and we had heard was meant to be the biggest caucus in the State. Clinton very convincingly won the caucus leaving Sanders trailing behind, following this FOUR hour process we left to head to the Hillary Clinton victory party at a local University in Des Moines. Whilst the victory turned out to be slimmer than expected, the party was a hit although definitely filled beyond its capacity! So, as Iowa was coming to an end, I had already managed to spend two evenings in the same room as both Hillary and Bill Clinton, it was everything I had hoped for and much much more.
Iowa provided an invaluable insight into the bizarre, surreal and in some cases inaccurate system of caucusing in the state. The process of caucusing was an interesting one to analyse, whilst the public display of political emotion demonstrated the importance of the Primary elections for American society, the inaccuracy of the process was clear. The caucus process took the entire evening, with errors of miscounting causing the first attempt to be 200 votes over- highlighting the unreliability of the caucus process. The disadvantages of the voting process were reinforced by numerous voters whom I spoke to when door to door canvasing who expressed their distaste with caucusing, stating that they refused to vote until the process was transformed to a primary.
Although caucusing clearly had faults, I was impressed and amazed at the sheer number of people who turned out to vote, with a record number of over 700 individuals turning up to caucus at the precinct I attended- a new record for the area. In this way, caucusing expressed the family values behind American politics, with many families bringing their children- the future of politics- with them to show their support for particular candidates. ‘Feel the Bern’ signs were galore amongst the young supporters, this specific and dedicated interest from a young age emphasised differences between British and American politics, an aspect that could be adopted throughout the UK to promote youth engagement within politics. Although I don’t think bringing children to the standard rickety community centres to cast a private vote in the British elections would quite have the same captivating qualities to capture an interest in young children in the political system within the UK.
Finally, I was shocked by the process of stealing votes, which happened between the undecided and after the O’Malley supporters failed to gain over 15% of the vote, I thought it would be an official and meticulously organised process. Rather than trying to convince their peers to change their vote by preaching and informing about policies and the candidates beliefs and desires, those caucusing instead chose to use personal connections, such as “but you’re my neighbour” to convince individuals to support either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. This once again demonstrates the community feel to the caucusing process, rather than the incredibly personal and private atmosphere of British elections, perhaps this is one of the reasons that British politics is failing to engage people. Regardless of the clear inaccuracies of the caucus process I can see how it provides spark in the interest in both American politics and the State of Iowa- providing an interesting angle to the process in giving a public and family element to a usually personal event. This highlighted a contrast between British and American politics, from my experience British people are far more reserved about the voting process and who they are voting for, this thus contributes to keeping political elections outside of the public domain including everyday conversation- the nonexistence of this being something that could provide an explanation to the distressingly low percentage of youth engagement within UK politics, if the topic of politics is not widely discussed within the private realm how is an interest ever going to be sparked within the vast majority of young people. Whilst I feel that American elections may go too far in the sense of exposure (TV adverts galore) the UK could definitely learn something from their huge amount of coverage and publicity.
Would I go back to Iowa? Unless it was for particularly political reasons, no. But despite this I had a wonderful time learning more about the process of caucusing and it was my first insight into the American political experience and canvasing in general. Regardless, I was more than excited to head to Washington DC and back to civilization.
Part Two: New Hampshire
I can tell you now, if you have a few hours spare, do not spend them in the arrivals area of Manchester Airport, New Hampshire. After spending far too long sat in the singular sub-par coffee shop in their airport we finally made it to the Clinton HQ in Manchester, a building fantastically organized and official compared to what we experienced in Iowa- this was an actual office building with real desks! We were shown around before being thrown straight in to work where we started making phone calls, as someone who had spent far too long working on phones in a part time office job yet had never done any phone canvasing I was embarrassingly looking forward to the prospect of this. Phone canvasing consisted of being given a ‘phone pack’, this being a list of hundreds of people and their phone numbers who were registered democrats/had displayed an interest in Clinton’s campaign. We simply had to phone up each of the individuals on the list and ask who they would be supporting in the Primary, if they were undecided we would try and convince them to support Hillary discussing with them the issues and policies that mattered to them, and we would also invite people to attend nearby events that Hillary would be speaking at.
The following morning we were at the Derry headquarters ready to get out canvasing- door to door knocking. It was very interesting to witness and experience the differences between the voters in New Hampshire to those in Iowa, people in NH seemed to be far more undecided and open to hearing about alternative candidates and their policies. It was also interesting to acknowledge how seriously people in New Hampshire seemed to take the election, everyone I spoke to seemed to take their democratic obligation very seriously, with people claiming that the choice of whom to vote for was keeping them up at night. This highlighted a huge contrast between those in New Hampshire, incredibly aware of the importance of their vote, and young people back in the UK whom I have spoken to about the voting process who didn’t believe that their vote would make a difference in the overall result and thus was fairly insignificant.
Later that day back at the headquarters we had the amazing opportunity to see former Secretary of State Madeline Albright speak, who came to endorse Hillary and thank those who were canvasing. She gave a fantastic and moving speech about her relationship with Hillary during her time as Secretary of State under Bill Clinton’s administration, expressing her beliefs as to why Clinton is the most suitable candidate for the most powerful job in the world. She gave an empowering speech about America’s need to finally have a female president, particularly one as experienced and qualified for the role as Hillary Clinton. I was fortunate enough to have the amazing opportunity to meet Secretary Albright at the end of her speech during which she expressed her interest in the 45 for the 45th program. This was particularly exciting for me as Albright has always been a huge role model of mine, someone that I have grown up looking up to as inspiration for what women can do, proving that women can succeed and strive within the world of politics.
The following days in New Hampshire were very much the same involving door to door canvasing in the snow around the Derry area. Once again it was an incredibly different experience to canvasing in Iowa with people’s responses incredibly different- people were far less decided about who they were voting for regardless of the primary being so near.
We did however also get to attend a Republican event, Marco Rubio’s Super bowl party. My first experience of a Republican event was quite something, even though I would identify myself as a strong democrat, I did not expect to feel so uncomfortable as a result of the environment, people and extreme right-wing comments coming out of Rubio’s mouth. The experience in general a huge contrast to the experience of attending a Hillary Clinton rally, first of all it was significantly smaller, with no queueing to enter the event, no security to get in and much less people there, indicating Clinton’s popularity over her Republican counterparts. It was fascinating to be able to experience a Republican event and be able to have a point of comparison to the Clinton events that we had attended. Rubio’s speech was much shorter than Clinton’s but it was also far more directed at attacking his competitors for the GOP nomination, rather than about putting forward and informing people of his policies, the atmosphere was one of hostility and anger. Rather than the rhetoric used by Clinton etc. of continuing to improve America and work on the progress made by Obama, making sure that everyone is included in this, Rubio only spoke of failings and criticized his opponents and Democrats in general.
We also had the chance to experience visibility on Primary day whilst in New Hampshire. This basically involved standing in a huge pile of snow with Clinton signs to show support for the candidate. Doing this meant that we were able to meet both Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, a great reward for our time spent canvasing. I never thought that during my experience with 45 for the 45th I would have the opportunity to meet the future President (hopefully!) so this was a fantastic surprise and a great way to end our time canvasing in the US.
Part Three: Reflection, What the UK Could Learn
The most significant thing that I learnt from my time observing the US presidential election is that visibility and consistent persistence is important in engaging young people within the political system. From my experience witnessing the Presidential elections I saw the frequent efforts to engage the public, visiting houses to engage with as many people as possible, to drop off literature and discuss with them their plans to vote. Not only reminding them to vote, even providing transport to the polling station if needed, but also ensuring that they were fully informed on the policies of those who they could vote for. In comparison, in the recent UK elections I was not approached by anyone reminding me to vote or trying to convince me to vote for a particular candidate. As a result of this, any knowledge I was to have about the party’s policies was as a result of my own research, thus a young person needs their own motivation and dedication to learn about politics themselves, they are not helped with this knowledge.
In this sense young people are ignored within the UK political system, in order to make an informed decision about who to vote for and the process of voting, young people need to possess their own motivation to learn about the political system and what their vote can do. Without this personal research, British politics is an entirely elitist environment, out of the realm of young people without a unique and quite frankly unusual interest in politics. Unlike what I experienced in America, there seems to me no effort to engage with the wider population and engage them within parties and candidates policies, relying far more on the individual than the American system seemed to.
Something clearly needs to be done to address these issues within UK politics and ensure a greater engagement with the system. I feel that students should be taught a basic overview of the UK political system while still in schools to ensure they understand the meaning of an election and the value of their vote. They should be able to understand the basic structure of the system, the main parties and their key policies along with what political roles actually involve. Hopefully this base knowledge would make politics seem a more accessible realm to young people, making it within their interests to carefully research elections and policies to ensure that not only they make full use of their vote within a democratic society but also make sure that their vote is worthwhile and that they truly know what they are voting for. This accessibility of politics to young people would serve to remove the long standing stigma of politics as being an elitist field made up of men in suits, expanding the field to all those old enough to vote. The fact that young people are left clueless about the entire political system, causing them not to vote, illustrates the way in which the system is failing itself, excluding an entire demographic from a supposedly demographic system. Elections and politics are supposed to be a time in which everyone is equal, elections are the one day a year that everyone possesses the same power and influence, from the CEO of a company to the student, everyone should be able to exercise this opportunity to make a difference, not just those who are fortunate enough to not feel exiled and out of depth of the political system. If a lack of knowledge as a result of a lack of education prevents people from voting can we really call the system a democracy?
I feel that these problems can be easily solved. We witnessed in America the huge length that campaigns go to in order to engage the public, through door to door knocking, phone canvasing and the distribution of literature, something that I have personally never seen to the same extent in the UK. There needs to be a greater awareness and visibility of options for young people, enabling them to realize how easy it is for them to exercise their vote and take part within British politics. Ultimately the youth needs to believe that their vote matters, they need to become actively engaged within the system, understanding the implications of what they are voting for alongside what their vote actually means, this is where I feel the US electoral system is superior, the high publicity surrounding the election itself ensures that everyone has incredibly easy access to the information they need to know. This issue has never been more prevalent than now when we have the EU referendum approaching, when once again young people are unlikely to turn out to vote due to a lack of knowledge surrounding the situation, causing this lack of political engagement.
“I’m excited to immerse myself in a political system that is so distinct from the UK. I’m hoping that the lessons we learn from the US Election will help us engage other members of my generation with politics and inspire an enthusiasm for politics that can be translated to the wider UK electorate”.
“I Joined the programme because I am sick of the negative stereotypes surrounding young people in the UK, we do care about politics and we have a lot to contribute. It’s important that we have our voices hardly voting and engaging with politics and I want to go to the US to learn how they do things, to experience life on the campaign trail and bring back what i’ve learnt” Kusai Rahal, 18 Queen Mary University of London
Touring the USA for the Caucus
Des Moines, Iowa
On the 30th of January 2016, I took my first trip across the pond, a trip which taught me a lot about politics in America. The flight was 9 hours long, it completely drained me, but when I landed in Des Moines, Iowa I felt energized, the icy wind gave me a cheeky uppercut followed by a swift left hook, and the empty roads and massive houses looked beautiful, I could smell politics in the air, and feel a political vibe touch my skin…. Enough of the exaggeration. On a real note, though, America was an eye-opening trip one which could not be replaced.
When we landed in Iowa and went out to canvas for Clinton, I would never have thought or imagined how nice and welcoming the locals were, my image of Iowa was slightly bad… okay, it was terrible, I thought it would be full of racist, Trump supporters, but no the people were extremely welcoming, not to mention how friendly the volunteers of the Clinton Campaign were. They gave up their personal free time for Hillary, and some were students travelling from other states just to help in the campaign, others were local employees, their houses were open to us, and they were very nice with great hospitality. Driving through Iowa, I felt a political vibe, it was hard to spot one driveway or front garden without a banner with a political candidate on it. The people were clearly politically active.
Most of the volunteers were local Iowans who wanted to help, and they were firm believers in Clinton and her policies, ideas and her personality. The way they would speak about Clinton made me question, why don’t we like politicians back in the UK? Why can’t we be like these people, so involved in the political process? The interesting thing was the way the Clinton campaign did not focus mainly on the professional employees, but they had a strong connection with the grassroots groups and supporters, using the snowflake effect, first introduced by Obama in 2008.
After being briefed at the Clinton headquarters (one of the local’s house), we headed out to the streets to experience street canvassing for the first time, who would have thought the walking around knocking on doors and speaking to members of the public about voting for Hillary Clinton in the caucuses would be so interesting? What I found astonishing was how open and interested these Iowans were, then it got me thinking again… if I were back in the London and I was canvassing for a politician, I most likely will get a shouting at, and a door slammed in my face. Not in Iowa. People were thanking us for canvassing and offering us water and refreshments just in case we needed them. Interacting with the voters was the most interesting part, I met this young lady called Jess, she was a student. When I asked her about her reasons for wanting to vote for Hillary, she was so passionate and open about her views, it was evident that she had done her research and was not ignorant, she was aware of the politics around her unlike many students back home. That is what I want the UK to be like, young people knowing who they want to vote for, eager to go out and help and be involved in the process, not just to stand on the side and complain about how the government doesn’t help.
Moving swiftly on, on the 1st of February we were very lucky to be able to get at a Clinton rally, which was in fact probably her best speech ever. I have never seen a politician conduct a speech in front of my eyes, for 45 minutes and not hesitate or pause once, she knew what she wanted to say and never failed to impress. I was used to seeing her on the TV screen or reading about Clinton in the Newspaper, seeing her 5 meters away from me was fantastic and will not be forgotten. The atmosphere was astonishing, picture it, hundreds of people in a high school gymnasium, chanting for Clinton waiting for her arrival, even though she arrived late, everyone waited, and when she came out, the gymnasium erupted with noise. Even after she finished her speech, she stayed after to speak to voters about their concerns, which made me think she cared about the people, I’m sure a lot of other people did too.
The most intriguing part of Iowa was by far witnessing a live caucus. I’ve learned about the caucuses in my A-level class, listening to my boring old teacher explain it and reading it from a textbook used to send me to sleep. Being there is a whole different experience. It looked like a complete ‘shambles’, a good one! People were trying to convince each other to vote for their preferred candidate, voters also interrupted many times suggesting how the count should be conducted, it seemed almost like a clip out of a movie. If I was to describe how it was, it was thousands of people in a room with one person trying to keep them quiet, and two people doing the counting. The way it worked was, the voters go to designated sections for their favoured candidate, and a headcount will be conducted, once they are counted they do a recount to make sure the numbers are accurate. In my opinion the caucuses looked very easy for one to commit voting fraud, I could have voted, literally by standing in the section if I wanted to, there were no restrictions or safeguards in place, they gave people the benefit of the doubt.
One of the most interesting things about the caucus was that there were children present, even though they could not vote, they were taking part in the political process from early, running around with Bernie stickers all over them and holding signs that they made about Bernie. It made me realise that the reason young people are so disengaged with politics is because we don’t make our children see it as something fun. It was clear that it was almost like a ‘tradition’, these children were getting into the spirit of the election before they could vote, maybe that is what they the UK needs?
However, the Republican caucuses were very different, they were more ‘civilised’ so to speak, the voters sit around the table of their preferred candidate, and they are then counted. It was much calmer and quicker.
The highlight of my trip in Iowa has to be my appearance on ABC news channel, I bumped into Josh Haskell, an ABC news anchor, while he was live streaming at the caucus, making the presenters in the studio dab, was the highlight of that interview.
When we touched down in Washington D.C. I felt like this was my opportunity to explore the political hotspot of the world, we toured the capital; I visited Capitol Hill, Lincoln Memorial, K street even going to a basketball match to watch the MVP Stephen Curry play live.
The The weather was not in our favour, our flight got cancelled due to bad weather, so we had an extra day in Washington D.C. once the weather allowed us to fly into New Hampshire, we landed in Manchester. Immediately we went to our host family’s houses and got to meet them. I was in the house of a local rabbi and his wife who were very friendly people. The difference between Iowa and New Hampshire was massive, especially when comparing the campaigns and the people themselves.
I was campaigning in Derry, on our first day we were sent in vans to go and canvas for Clinton, it went pretty well, me and Ben (a friend I met on the programme) met many people. The biggest difference was how the people spoke about politics, in Iowa, when you knock on a door and ask who will they be voting for in the caucus, you would expect and answer, but in New Hampshire when you ask people, they like to be secretive about it, maybe it is because of the secret ballot. We got used to canvassing and calling people, the experience was great.
On the actual day of the primary, we were sent to do visibility for the Hillary campaign, it was very organised and structured with security, unlike the caucus where people were talking arguing and moving about. We were granted with the opportunity to meet Hillary Clinton herself!!! I managed to get a video her and a picture, something I would have never dreamed of.
To put the icing on the cake, my first interview on ABC News impressed them so they came back for more, this one was more civilised than the first one.
Overall my journey to the USA was not just eye-opening but very enjoyable, special thanks to Gordon, Callum and the rest of the 45 for the 45th team for making this trip happen, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am happy I took this opportunity. I’ve learnt so much, for example, one of the main reasons why young people tend not to vote is because they’re not taught enough about it, in America children are involved in the process before they can vote so it becomes a tradition. One message I would like to give to young people in the UK is simple and clear if you’re not going to vote or take part in the political process the DO NOT complain when things don’t go your way. Simple. Young people in the UK don’t understand the power that they have, only when they are aware of this power will they be able to make a change, this is why I created my YouTube channel, SpeakOut Generation to make politics interesting to young people and help drive young people involvement in politics.