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A top climate group is trying to reinvent the way campaigns use phone banking to motivate voters to turn out on Election Day.
NextGen Climate, one of the most well-funded super PACs dedicated to stopping climate change, is giving its staffers and volunteers a job: convincing potential millennials voters to text them, and personally responding to each text.
While many campaigns send text message blasts to supporters, NextGen strategists thought they could put an old-fashioned phone-banking spin on the text-message blasts by encouraging recipients to engage in a conversation about candidates.
The effort tasks campus organizers across the country with individually texting potential millennial supporters in six battleground states – Indiana, North Carolina, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Ohio. The group hopes the texts will remind voters of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s support for measures that would curb the effects of climate change, which contrasts with Donald Trump’s skepticism about whether human activity is responsible.
Suzanne Henkels, NextGen’s communications director, told Business Insider that the effort is aimed at engaging potential voters “in a meaningful one-on-one conversation about climate change and the upcoming election,” inviting supporters to attend events and helping them locate and travel to their polling places.
Henkels told Business Insider that recipients are a little weirded out when they receive real responses from staffers and volunteers.
“We’ve found that many voters just assume it’s an automated program and are quite surprised when we reply with personalized texts,” Henkels said. “Our goal is to facilitate a genuine, authentic conversation with these voters on the issues they care about. And in this case, it means making jokes, using emojis, and texting slang.”
NextGen, which joined other climate groups like the Sierra Club in sitting out the primary, has also hired several former staffers from Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign. Those staffers had helped to build the senator’s digital outreach and organize programs that attempted to motivate youth voter turnout during the Democratic primaries and caucuses.
The initiative is part of a $25 million ad buy NextGen has launched this cycle that’s aimed solely at engaging millennial voters. More millennials back Clinton than Trump, according to polling data, but they are notably less enthused about the former secretary of state than her Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama.
Clinton’s campaign is well aware it has a problem with young voters – an important part of the so-called Obama coalition.
As The Atlantic pointed out, Clinton won even less support among young Democratic voters in 2016 in her primary against Sen. Bernie Sanders than she did in 2008 in her primary matchup against Obama.
Further, many millennials currently support third-party candidates like Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
A recent Washington Post/ABC national poll showed that among voters ages 18-39, Clinton garnered 44% support to Trump’s 24%, Johnson received 20%, and Stein received 6%.
Clinton campaign allies recognize that millennials occupy a larger share of the electorate than in previous elections.
Speaking with Business Insider after a private roundtable hosted by the immigration advocacy group FWD.us, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who backs Clinton, said it’s important that the former secretary of state continue to speak to millennial voters about issues they value.
“At the end of the day, millennial turnout and outreach will be incredibly important to Hillary Clinton’s chances to prevail,” Jeffries said. “I expect that she will continue to triple down on dealing with the issues that are important to millennials, so that they understand there is only one candidate in this race who they should be supporting in large numbers.”
For NextGen, the initiative is a chance to improve on its record. The organization invested more than $60 million of its founder Tom Steyer’s personal cash in 2014, the first election it was involved in. But most of its candidates lost – as The New York Times points out, only three of the seven candidates it backed in Senate and gubernatorial races won.
The organization believes it has the upper hand this time – general elections inherently draw a younger electorate, which it believes can benefit environmental organizations.