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Student Political Groups Adapt to Virtual Tactics to Campaign for Candidates Amid the Pandemic

Graphics courtesy of Marco Useche and Mary SlowinskiBecause of the COVID-19 pandemic, student political groups have had to ditch most in-person canvassing and events and rely solely on online campaign efforts.

With less than a month left until the general election, student political groups at Loyola have changed some of their tactics due to the COVID-19 pandemic — including a greater reliance on technology rather than traditional grassroots techniques — and figured out ways to spread their message and convince students to vote. 

Marco Useche, president of the Loyola chapter of Students for Trump — a national organization run by conservative group Turning Point USA — said his group has had to change its organizational tactics because of the pandemic and its efforts are now almost entirely online. 

Useche mentioned how indoor events have had to be canceled and even political conventions saw drastic changes in how they were conducted. 

Locally, Useche said the primary focus of the Loyola chapter of Students for Trump has been getting students to register to vote and building a community for Trump supporters on Loyola’s campus, though they aren’t an official Loyola group.

“One of our primary focuses is voter registration, and then our other primary focus is creating a sense of belonging for conservatives,” Useche, a 19-year-old junior majoring in supply chain management, said. “However, when we do voter registration, we don’t push one party or another because that’s actually illegal.” 

The two voter registration events the group ran secured ten voter registrations. As for the community, currently its Instagram page has just over 500 followers and Useche said they have an active GroupMe with 52 members. 

Similar goals were expressed by Student’s for Biden, a grassroots effort directly affiliated with the Biden campaign also without official ties to Loyola.

Mary Slowinski, one of the group’s co-chairs, said the main focus of Students for Biden is getting students to register to vote, reaching out to students in swing states to get them to vote for Biden and contacting Loyola alumni to have them talk about how much the election will affect their particular field. 

“One thing that we’re really doing is kind of gathering the Biden supporters in the Loyola  community around one another, just kind of having a touchstone I guess, for all Biden’s supporters, but then also, we’re really focusing on voter registration,” Slowinksi, an 18-year-old first-year majoring in economics and political science, said. 

Slowinski said the group’s efforts in voter registration are focused on having its members reach out within their own networks to get people they know registered. The group has a mailing list of around 60 people and has weekly Zoom meetings. They’re also holding debate watch parties on Zoom with the Loyola Democrats. 

David Doherty, a political science professor at Loyola, said the reliance on online organization and recruitment in this election isn’t due exclusively to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also follows a trend seen in recent elections. 

“Some of the change is maybe not as jarring as it would have been if this happened 20 years ago because there’s already been sort of a movement to more online campaigning and fundraising,” Doherty said. “There’s not a lot of what’s sometimes referred to as retail politics where the candidates go into the diner and some town in Pennsylvania, and they shake hands and have their picture taken and all that business.”  

Doherty also said there’s a difference among the presidential candidates in how they are campaigning during the pandemic. He noted former Vice President and current Democratic nominee Joe Biden has been the more cautious of the two, strictly following health guidelines while President Donald Trump’s behavior hasn’t changed nearly as much. 

As for how the pandemic has affected how student groups campaign for their preferred candidate, they’ve also had to change their approach. Slowinski said in a normal election they’d be going door to door canvassing, but this year everything is being done virtually. Because of this, Slowinski said they’re focusing their efforts on students outside of the Chicago area and they’re working with networks within the Biden campaign located outside the city.

“We’re really tapping into those networks outside of the city of Chicago, because we know the city of Chicago tends to vote blue … just so we can get information back to the campaign,” Slowinski said.

As for the issues, Doherty talked about the many different issues that may impact a voter’s choice.

Useche said the economy, one of the issues Doherty mentioned, is the main reason students should vote for Trump. 

Another issue that may affect a voter’s choice is the differences between the two candidates’ personalities and policies. Doherty said in previous elections, the argument could be made that the candidates weren’t much different but that argument can’t be made in this election. 

“The two choices voters have laid out pretty different governing agendas,” Doherty said. “They have really different dispositions. And if you care who the face of our country is and who our leader is, and who plays a sort of pivotal role, and what kinds of policies will shape our future, you have a choice to make.” 

The issue of national unity is what Slowinski said she hopes students look at when deciding who to vote for in 2020. She said in her view, Biden is the choice to unify the country and the candidate that people  across the political spectrum can get behind for this reason. 

“I think you see people from the left all the way over here and on the right all the way over here kind of coming together,” Slowinski said. “Which is something that I think our country really needs right now.”

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