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College political groups shift to Zoom, social media amid pandemic

By Lina Ruiz, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in Health & Fitness

ORLANDO, Fla. — Ahead of the first presidential debate in late September, the College Republicans at UCF posted a bingo card on Instagram with spaces reading, "Trump calls Biden 'sleepy Joe,'" "Candidates share an awkward elbow bump," and, "Moderator can't control the debate."

The pandemic created a need for a revamp of the group's website and a stronger focus on virtual strategy to connect with students, said its president, Didi Malka. Among the changes: A social media manager was added to the board of directors.

"In terms of social media, we have definitely upped the ante," he said.

Hannah Anton, president of College Democrats at UCF, said the organization recently hosted a Q&A on Zoom with Orange-Osceola state attorney candidate Monique Worrell, who won the Democratic primary in August.

"As an organization, it's really important to us, not only to obviously amplify Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and their ticket but also to be focusing on our down-ballot Democrats," said Anton, a 20-year-old political science junior.

Student political organizations, typically known for canvassing on campus with voter registration clipboards in hand, have been forced by COVID-19 and distance learning to adopt virtual tactics as they try to keep young voters engaged ahead of Election Day.

 

That means a newfound reliance on social media, Zoom video calls and phone banks to reach the younger demographic, who make up a significant segment of registered voters, but historically have often failed to turn out.

Daniel A. Smith, a University of Florida political science professor and nationally recognized voting expert, provided the Orlando Sentinel with Florida voter registration statistics organized by age group. Of the 2.5 million registered voters ages 18 to 29, 38% are Democrats, 25% are Republicans and 35% are not affiliated with a party.

"Young voters in Florida, as in the rest of the country, disproportionately register as Democrats and as independents. Joe Biden would get a tremendous boost in the Sunshine State if young voters turned out to vote," he said. "But that's always a big if."

Kevin Wagner, Florida Atlantic University political science department chair and professor, said social media has become a catalyst of political conversation for young and older voters alike.

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