Georgetown Climate Forum Cast Spotlight On Diversity, Engagement of Youth Vote

September 24, 2019 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – Last week, Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service hosted 12 presidential candidates for Climate Forum 2020, which was billed as a conversation with young voters about the issue of climate change and how candidates from across the political spectrum would address it if elected.

But the event, for which GU Politics partnered with MSNBC, Our Daily Planet and New York Magazine, did more than that.

It provided fresh insight into the diversity and engagement of  college-age voters heading into the 2020 campaign season — and just how important the candidates view that vote to their chances.

MSNBC hosts Chris Hayes and Ali Velshi moderated the event from Gaston Hall at Georgetown, and each candidate devoted an hour to dive deep into their policy specifics.

On the first day of the forum, students heard from Michael Bennet, Andrew Yang, Marianne Williamson, Bernie Sanders, John Delaney, Tim Ryan, and Julián Castro.

On day two, Cory Booker, Steve Bullock, Pete Buttigieg, Tom Steyer, and Bill Weld took the stage.

Afterwards, The Well News caught up with Mo Elleithee, executive director of the Institute of Politics and Public Service, and asked him to assess the event and what it revealed beyond what was said on stage and before the cameras.

“The Climate Forum created space for a substantive discussion on the national stage about the impact of climate change between candidates and young voters,” Elleithee said.

“Our mission has always been to create opportunities for young people to engage directly with people in the political arena and engage in a conversation about how it can work better.  This forum gave them that chance on an issue that consistently ranks as one of the most important to young people,” he said.

Over the course of the two-day event, hundreds of students streamed in and out of the venue, but every candidate appeared to have a large constituency among the student body that specifically wanted to see and hear what they had to say.

For Elleithee, the consistent size of the crowd from the moment Sen. Michael Bennet took the stage Thursday morning to when former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld left it Friday afternoon once again proved that “the ‘young voter’ is definitely not a single voting block.”

“The students who participated in the Climate Forum—and young people across the country—are carefully looking into the platforms of each candidate and setting a high bar for success,” he said. “By doing so, they are making our politics better. The access students had to candidates at the Climate Forum and the ability to be part of a national conversation clearly facilitated that process and made a real impact.” 

“What was exciting was how much enthusiasm students had to talk with a number of the candidates.,” Elleithee continued. “Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Cory Booker, D.N.J., South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Andrew Yang all spoke to a nearly full hall. Governor Weld also received a warm welcome from students excited to hear from a Republican candidate. 

“My political takeaway was that the youth vote is still very much up for grabs,” he added.

That belief was clearly held by the candidates in attendance. Aside from taking part in the event itself, a number of candidates took the time to interact with students outside the venue and at side events.

“The youth vote should be a priority for candidates on both sides of the aisle, and we were appreciative of those candidates who took the time to talk with this nationwide audience of young voters,” Elleithee said when asked about the attention candidates paid to the young people who turned out for them.

“The students that participated here on campus, and from across the country at satellite watch parties, were incredibly engaged, animated, and emotionally invested in the conversation at the Climate Forum and we saw them express enthusiasm for each one of the candidates,” he said. “Young people are driving the conversation on issues that will define this election, and I’d encourage candidates to pay attention.”

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