Stories from the US campaign trail: 'We could have helped decide the election'
As the final stages of the US presidential race get under way, 20 sixthformers from five UK schools join campaigners for Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton and a number of Republican congressional races. The students are part of the Inspire US 2016 programme, run by education charity Transformation Trust, which offers opportunities to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to help them develop new employability skills and grow in confidence. TES will carry a report each day from the students.
Reporting from Florida and Marco Rubio's Republican re-election campaign for Senate are Bethan Atkinson, Adam Brammer, Korben Ward and Nathan Jarvis from Ormiston Sir Stanley Matthews in Stoke-on-Trent.
Today was our first introduction to the amazing world of US political campaigning.
After our inaugural “Campaign School” learning about how previous successful campaigns have been run (including how our own prime minister won her re-election as an MP in 2006), we took the short drive over to the local headquarters of Marco Rubio’s campaign for re-election as one of Florida’s senators.
We were blown away by just how nice all the staff were, despite the fact that they represented the opposite end of the political spectrum to every one of us.
The session started with an overview of exactly who Rubio was – what he stands for and how he got to where he is. This was not only informative but gave us the tools that we needed when going into the field to speak to prospective voters.
One thing that became apparent early on is just how important the Get Out The Vote (GOTV) movement is. There are thousands of registered voters who are reluctant to actually get out to the polls. One thing the campaigners do is try and move heaven and earth to get them there – pushing the postal vote, early voting, and even offering to walk them directly to their nearest voting station.
Technology plays a massive role in modern campaigning.
We were given an app that is used in the field by Republicans. It holds a database of registered voters who had previously voted Republican. Our job was to visit these voters and find out who they were planning to vote for this year and how they were going to submit their vote.
What we found early on was that not everyone was keen to speak to us. Many houses were unoccupied and others were seen twitching their curtains but did not come to the door.
When we returned to the field office, we used technology again to make phone calls to voters who had not yet submitted their postal vote. Again, this was all done through an app that was linked to voters and provided their name, a script, and series of questions to follow.
The party’s reliance on volunteers was palpable today. We witnessed members of the public walking off the street and offering their time to help out. Similarly, they simply downloaded an app and were making calls within five minutes.
The impact we had today was phenomenal. In the 45 minutes we were making phone calls, over 1,600 voters were reached. It just goes to show just how powerful the role of the volunteer plays in politics.
The Florida election could go down to the wire. If we had an impact on a large proportion of those 1,600 voters, we could have helped decide the election.