Since 1984, the nonpartisan Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project has had one mission: to achieve full participation of young people (aged 18-24) in the democratic process. We also aim to increase the level of civic engagement on college campuses and for others to see them as a critical place for organizing and activism.
Over the last year, leading up to the 2022 midterm election, more than 860 student volunteers, interns, and fellows working on more than 150 campuses across the country (including public and private four-year schools and 100 community colleges) helped hundreds of thousands of their peers make their voice heard in our democracy.
Our team made 200,000 GOTV contacts to help students make a plan to vote and organized hundreds of campaign actions to engage students, through in-person events, class announcements, phone calls, text messages, and on social media.
And the preliminary results paint a promising picture, confirming what we know to be true. When you invest in youth organizing, young people show up. Data from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) estimates that the percentage of all eligible young voters, ages 18-29, who cast a ballot in 2022 will reach 27%, the second-highest national voter youth turnout rate for a midterm election in nearly 30 years! CIRCLE also estimates that in a group of 10 electorally competitive states for which exit poll data is available (AZ, FL, GA, MI, NC, NH, NV, OH, PA, WI), the aggregate youth voter turnout was 31%.
Continuing our infrastructure-building work
Students trained through our program ran our New Voters Project—a nonpartisan field-based voter registration and nonpartisan Get-out-the-Vote (GOTV) campaign. That work took place on campuses with an established PIRG presence, and on new campuses to our program. Our goal on every campus where we run the project is to help the campus community there build permanent civic engagement infrastructure that can act as a driving force for keeping youth turnout high in every election. By volunteering with the project, students gain hands-on experience organizing and running a local grassroots campaign designed to turn their peers out to vote. As we kept up work at PIRG Campus Action campuses in addition to PIRG chapter schools, we were able to bring our program to thousands more students who would otherwise lack access to our approach to building student power for the long haul.
Whether it was speaking in a class, stopping a student passing by on campus, or texting or calling a classmate, 860 students made more than 200,000 GOTV contacts in the weeks leading up to the election. These contacts include a conversation over phone or in person, as well as a peer- to-peer text message. Our team prioritizes making peer-to-peer contacts as much as possible, which studies consistently show drives increased voter turnout rather than cold contacts. We also bring campus communities together to strengthen and continue formalizing a big-tent vote coalition to increase youth engagement. These coalitions are made up of administrators, faculty, student government, and large campus organizations, including Greek life, College Democrats, College Republicans, multicultural groups, and any other campus organizations with large followings, specific to each campus.
Working with college institutions allowed us to reach a lot of young people at once, including young people of color and students from a variety of economic backgrounds. By working with more than 70 minority-serving institutions (MSIs), community colleges, and campuses made up of a majority of students of color, we were able to help mobilize and engage the most underrepresented group of voters in our democracy.
New data demonstrates our program’s effectiveness
We took part in several studies to quantify our impact on youth voter turnout.
At Florida State University, our New Voters Project team of students spent Election Day helping hundreds of students make sure their vote was counted. During the day, students generated visibility around the election by displaying huge props like the inflatable Vote Goat, and fanned out around campus to talk to students and give out stickers and tote bags. The on-campus voting location had a line out the door, and our team talked to hundreds of students in line for more than six hours to ensure they had the right form of voter ID, and that they were at the correct polling location. The result of this concentrated outreach and engagement with the campus community? The on-campus polling location reported a 43% turnout rate.
At Michigan State University. PIRG student leaders Joel and Evan, alongside PIRG organizer Felix, led a team of volunteers throughout the day who made sure students on campus knew where to go to cast their ballot and provided donuts and pizza to the students waiting in line to vote. They also helped students take advantage of same-day registration, enabling students who had not yet registered to register and vote at the on-campus polling location. The result? On-campus polling locations reported a 47% preliminary turnout rate.
In addition to preliminary results from 2022, leading up to the election, we wanted to test whether or not a strong PIRG presence helped increase civic engagement within a campus community. Working with the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement (NSLVE) at Tufts University, we analyzed 57 campuses with a strong PIRG presence to assess voter turnout. In 2020, campuses with a PIRG club or chapter turned out at 6 percentage points higher than the national average. That meant 89,000 more young voters. (Our full NSLVE cluster report is available here.)
All of these different data points draw one conclusion: when we invest in programs that engage young people, they turn out to vote. That holds across private schools, public schools, community colleges, and minority-serving institutions. While the New Voters Project did plenty of work, other organizations, faculty members, and administrators did their part to increase civic engagement as well. It takes a village to build campus cultures of civic engagement.
“Voting is not only your constitutional right but it’s your way of letting your voice be heard. It’s your way of impacting people around you and the decisions that are being made, federally and locally.”—Trinity St. Preux
Tallahassee Community College student and Student Government Senator
Giving students the opportunity to lead
We believe students themselves should have ownership over our work. As a student-led organization, the Student PIRGs have always prioritized building the skills of student leaders and giving them the training and guidance to be able to run their own projects, with assistance from our staff.
Our training program is focused on meeting students where they are and placing them on a leadership development and politicization track, where students can directly work on and make a difference on the same issues they learn about in the classroom. Students can learn about the lack of representation of young people in our political system and immediately act to help solve this problem by ensuring that their peers are registered to vote and turnout to vote in upcoming elections. Our top students will not only volunteer with us, but work with our professional organizing staff to complete a rigorous internship program that marries hands-on organizing experience with classroom training, often for a minimum number of hours a week. On many campuses, students are able to earn course credit for completing our civic engagement internship program.
While our team of professional organizers worked with students and helped to lead efforts at many campuses, this work would not have been possible without the 860+ student leaders who took on significant campaign responsibilities.
For profiles of student leaders trained through our program, see the end of this report.
Summer Training Program
In June 2022, we launched our New Voters Project Civic Leadership Program to provide students with the skills, training, and resources to effectively mobilize their campuses for the midterm election and beyond. By investing in the development of local leaders, we made sure the voice of young people was heard this November, while providing the skills and experience young people need to make lasting change in their communities for years to come.
50 students graduated from our inaugural Civic Leadership Certificate program in the month of June. These students represented 29 four-year universities, 12 community colleges, and three high schools in 17 states. Participants learned how to create a campus civic engagement action plan, how to run a voter engagement event, and honed grassroots organizing skills to reach their peers.
In July, we ran the New Voters Project Civic Leadership Boot Camp for another 53 students. This two day, virtual training was an accelerated version of the Civic Leadership Certificate Program, designed to provide the basic skills needed to run an effective student voter registration and mobilization drive on a college or high school campus. This intensive training focused on strategies and tactics that have been proven to increase student civic participation in elections and was made up of skills overviews from expert organizers and small group workshops that provided individualized attention to trainees.
In March 2022, our team organized a month of action to train young leaders on our proven peer-to-peer model. Throughout the month, we and our partners—including ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, Students Learn Students Vote Coalition, Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), Common Cause HBCU Student Action, Harvard Votes Challenge, Campus Vote Project, and The Andrew Goodman Foundation—hosted trainings, webinars, and voter mobilization challenges to help college students get vote ready for the midterm election and give young leaders the skills to run nonpartisan campus civic engagement drives.
Using civic holidays and themes to drive participation
Over the last year, we were able to build a buzz on our target campuses by setting specific dates and themes for students to organize their local New Voters Project campaigns around. Even though much of the actual work resembled our day-to-day outreach, students enjoyed the variety this approach offered. Events coincided around days including National Voter Registration Day, Vote Early Day, Halloween, and more.
For example, around National Voter Registration Day, our team helped hundreds of students register to vote and educated thousands more, using relational and peer-to-peer organizing to spread the word about how students can get registered and cast their ballots. That work took place on 73 campuses in 27 states on one day alone.
We also invested in ways to enhance visibility on a college campus after two years of mostly being virtual. We bought giant inflatable “vote goats” to draw attention, bubbles, vote tote bags, t-shirts, stickers, and more.
Engaging the broader civic engagement community
Not only did we work to engage campuses and the surrounding community, we also set out to make sure the broader civic engagement field was also tuned in to the importance of youth organizing, and made sure voting officials like Secretaries of State paid attention to the youth vote.
Our team participated in meetings and organized several panel discussions throughout the field, including running trainings for State Voices tables on the best way to reach young people, held a panel discussion on the anniversary of the 26th amendment (which gave 18 year olds the right to vote), trained students alongside the California Secretary of State’s office, and more.
Challenges and lessons learned
As we moved from a completely virtual world to one in which it is safer to organize in person, we’ve had to overcome certain challenges. We’ve been training students to engage voters in person who have spent the last two years being only virtual. On top of that, a lack of student activities on campus means less students are on campus at all times. Finally, students are facing difficulties as they try to balance their responsibilities in a fully in-person environment.
To address these challenges, we’ve worked to offer flexible volunteer opportunities that include both virtual and in-person options so that students can participate in a way that makes sense for their schedule and availability. By focusing on the tactics that are most effective at boosting turnout, we can be as efficient as possible in our efforts. Additionally, working with campuses to develop vote plans can help us get back on track with voter engagement initiatives.
Post-election, we are quickly shifting gears to new, timely campaigns to ensure the young leaders we engaged in the fall on stay involved and take on even greater levels of leadership. We will continue running our activist training and recruitment program, including running trainings for volunteers and interns focused on developing their grassroots organizing skills through a structured curriculum and partnering with campuses to continue the work of building lasting civic engagement infrastructure. At the same time, our students will be expanding their focus to work on issues and campaigns beyond nonpartisan civic engagement activities, including the environment, addressing hunger and homelessness, making college affordable, and more. For example, students might host educational events to connect new elected officials to their student constituents or mobilize their peers to act around new opportunities arising from new laws like the bipartisan infrastructure law.
Highlighting young leaders
Quanzelle Austrie, Class of 2023, University of South Florida
Quanzelle is the Florida Campus Outreach Intern and New Voters Project Campaign Coordinator for University of South Florida. As a PIRG student leader, she worked with the Bulls Vote Coalition to help their campus earn an ALL IN Campus Democracy Goal Seal by achieving a student voting rate of 74.7%, an eleven percentage point increase from 2016. Quanzelle is working with vote coalition partners to help students from all four campuses at USF replicate her success and participate in the midterm election.
Andres Cubillos, Class of 2024, Florida State University
Andres Cubillos is a 3rd year political science and international affairs double major at Florida State University. Andres helped establish Florida PIRg Students at FSU’s first club in 2020 as the Campaign Coordinator for the New Voters Project Campaign and helped increase FSU precinct voter turnout by 13%. Andres now works as the external affairs and outreach chair focusing on club building and coalition development.
Maria Ayala, Class of 2022, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Maria was a PIRG student leader in North Carolina at UNC – Charlotte and joined our team to work full-time organizing students in the state. Since graduating, Maria hit the ground running, working with a dozen college campuses in North Carolina to help them create and hone their campus civic engagement action plans leading up to the November elections.
Hanna Lesiak, Class of 2023, Northwestern University
Hanna, a student and member of the women’s volleyball team at Northwestern University, worked with our national partners at All Vote No Play and Athletes Unlimited to organize a panel and training for student athletes to learn how to train their teams to become civically active this fall.
Sydney Greenway, Class of 2024, Wayne State University
Sydney is a 2nd-year urban studies and sociology double major at Wayne State University. As president of PIRGIM Campus Action at WSU, Sydney has worked to further establish PIRGIM on WSU’s campus and strengthen relations with PIRGIM clubs across Michigan. She worked as campaign coordinator for the New Voters Project at WSU ahead of the 2022 Midterm Election where she mobilized students on her own campus and others in the Detroit area.
|About The Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project|
PIRG New Voters Project, Inc. is a non-partisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization with 4945(f) status. We work on 100 campuses across the country to activate the largest voting bloc in the country. Young people continue to be underrepresented in our democracy, so we work to make sure every student has the opportunity to have their voice heard in our elections by building a culture of civic engagement on college campuses. We engage students, faculty, and administrators to build lasting systems of voter engagement for the long term.
Since 1984, our field-based, non-partisan effort helped to register over 2 million young people and make over 3 million Get out the Vote contacts reminding young people where, when, and how to vote. We have tested new field models to ensure we are running the most effective civic engagement program possible. One study of our program showed that 82% of the young people we helped to register leading up to the 2020 election turned out to vote, while 75% of the young people contacted through our peer-to-peer GOTV program turned out to vote. This compares to 68.5% of a representative sample of college students overall who were registered and voted in 2016.
|About The Student PIRGs|
Students have the right and the responsibility to shape the future we will inherit. Our program spans over 100 campuses in 22 states of which 35 campuses have self-funding programs, that provide the training, professional support and resources students need to tackle climate change, protect public health, revitalize our democracy, feed the hungry and more. Students have been at the forefront of social change throughout history, from civil rights, to voting rights to protecting the environment. For almost 50 years we’ve helped our campus communities get organized, mobilized and energized so they can continue to be on the cutting edge of positive change. Every year, over 4,000 students gain hands-on experience in organizing and activism by volunteering with us to generate 150,000 grassroots actions.