The Young Democrats of America (YDA) is the largest youth-led, national, partisan political organization. YDA mobilizes young people under the age of 36 to participate in the electoral process, influences the ideals of the Democratic Party, and develops the skills of the youth generation to serve as leaders at the local and national level.
YDA has had chartered chapters in 46 states and U.S. territories with over 1,500 local chapters. Our 150,000+ members – including middle school, high school and college students as well as young workers, young professionals and young families – reflects the broad diversity of our nation and the Democratic Party. Our programs engage Young Democrats through their local county, college, or high school chapters, through state and regional programming, and nationally through events like our national convention and issue advocacy work. Since 2002, YDA has operated independently of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) as a nonfederal 527 political organization.
YDA’s campaigns and programs are aimed at building a sustainable youth movement. Through trainings, hands-on campaign experience, and leadership opportunities, YDA provides the infrastructure for young people to engage in partisan civic participation and prepares the youth generation to serve as leaders at the local, state, and national level.
BUILDING A YOUTH VOTING BLOC: PEER TO PEER CAMPAIGNS
YDA’s goal is to build a permanent bloc of young Democratic voters. Our tested field model identifies young voters, engages them in peer-to-peer communication and education, and then uses traditional and innovative methods to turn out the vote.
During the 2004 election, YDA housed a groundbreaking coordinated campaign called the Young Voter Alliance. For the first time in electoral politics, activist, social justice, cultural, and traditional party organizations came together to create a strategic voter contact program aimed at young people. Independent analysis of the 2004 Alliance program found that we reached voters traditional campaigns did not, adding an extra 5-12% to Democratic turnout in targeted precincts. In 2005 and 2006, YDA further tested and honed our model with effective peer-to-peer voter mobilization programs in 7 states. Initial analysis again points to an increase in young voter turnout and Democratic victories as a result of our peer-to-peer campaigns; the full analysis will be completed by late summer.
Paid canvasses are the emphasis of our field model, coupled with non-traditional voter identification and outreach through “street teams” – targeting young people where they live, work, go to school, and hangout. YDA’s unique field program targets registered voters under 36 years old who are not registered Republicans, even if they have never voter before. We target high youth-density areas (where voters under the age of 36 make up at least 25% of the voting age population) in targeted local, state, and federal races.
Our campaigns also employ new media, particularly SMS text messaging and interactions on social networking websites. All campaign staff and volunteers go through a field training program, and trainings for our members are a major element of all of YDA’s national, state, and local activities. Additionally, YDA also supports the locally focused volunteer campaign activities of our 1,500+ chapters all across the country.
Peer-to-peer campaigns not only help us build a youth voting bloc and get out the vote for elections, but are also an organizing tool for growing our membership and activist base. Using chapter leaders and members as paid and volunteer organizers on campaigns allows us to build long-lasting relationships with voters for the future while cultivating additional members. Interrelated, reinforcing campaign and chapter building activities lead to a truly sustainable organization for the Young Democrats and a stronger young voter movement.
THE CHAPTER REVOLUTION: SUPPORTING STATE AND LOCAL PROGRAMS
State-based and local organizing are the cornerstones of our efforts to build a permanent bloc of young Democratic voters. As a result, YDA has evolved our campaign model into a year-round effort to grow and sustain our chapter network with direct financial support and staff assistance. Dubbed the State Partnership Program, YDA has created a matching grant
program to assist state and local chapters with everything from hiring full-time Executive Directors to running voter contact programs to organizing trainings to developing websites.
The premise is simple: states submit a plan and we provide up to 67% of the funding for their programming, staff, and campaigns. Working with their local chapters to foster cooperation and buy-in, state presidents submit a detailed program based action plan and budget for their organization. The YDAstaff reviews all applications based on pre-set criteria and makes recommendations to a committee of national and regional YDA representatives for final approval. This process helps hold states to a high standard, as they know their application and progress will be reviewed by their peers.
Once approved, states enter into a Memo of Understanding (MOU) with YDA regarding the specifics of their program, financial obligations, and timeline. YDA funds State Partnership Programs with matching grants: up to a 67% match for paid campaign activities; 50% for state Executive Directors; 50% for chapter building activities, trainings, and issue advocacy work; and 33% for volunteer-led campaign activities. States must raise a portion of their budget from local donors before YDA will approve the MOU.