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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

The Youth Vote in the 2016 Election

Daniel Kessler, Young Democrats of America
Philadelphia, PA
July 28, 2016

Date: 07/28/2016 Location: Philadelphia, PA Description: Foreign Press Center briefing at the Democratic National Convention with Daniel Kessler, Young Democrats of America, on the Youth Vote in the 2016 Election - State Dept Image

12:30 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR: Hi, everyone. Good afternoon and welcome to the Foreign Press Center’s briefing room at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. We are pleased to also welcome those watching us on livestream at The transcripts will also be posted there.

I am pleased to welcome Dan Kessler, national vice president for Young Democrats of America. He is a member of the committee which brought this convention to Philadelphia and he is one of the youngest delegates to the Democratic convention. He’s also the youngest National Finance Committee member for Hillary for America at 26. And as with all briefings this week, Mr. Kessler’s comments do not reflect the review (sic) of the U.S. Government.

Thank you, and without further ado, Mr. Kessler.

MR KESSLER: Thank you all. It’s a pleasure to be here today. It’s a pleasure to be here. This convention has been terrific. And thank you for allowing me to address this panel of foreign journalists on youth issues. So I’ll just give a quick background. And it’s the year 2000. I am all of 10 years old and rather be at the Super Bowl or the World Series; I’m in Nashville, Tennessee, at Vice President Gore’s campaign headquarters on election night. Out in a steady drizzle at about 3:00 a.m., I waited for Vice President Gore to give a concession speech that never happened. I was stunned as CNN reversed its initial announcement that he had won Florida and consequently the presidency, and weeks later the Supreme Court delivered Florida and the White House by only 537 votes. This razor-thin margin vividly taught me that every vote matters, and galvanized my desire to make a societal difference through civic leadership.

So fast-forward 11 years, and as a White House intern in the Office of Presidential Correspondence, I helped manage the White House comment line every day. And every day I would listen to the hardships of hundreds and – of Americans across the country, from solutions to the BP oil spill to true hardships. I remember listening to the story of a young woman dying of ovarian cancer who could not afford the treatment – simple treatment to save her life. I was deeply moved by the multitude and severity of personal challenges that Americans faced, yet of all the issues I came across which were so passionately described, one issue most relevant to me – was most relevant to me, and as I was – and resonated with me the most: burdensome students loans and the exponential cost of college tuition. My own father had dreamt of university in D.C., yet could not afford anything but the local state college.

When I listened to young Americans on the lines at the White House with college affordability issues, I thought about my father and his unfilled childhood dreams. I thought about my classmates. I had many friends who wanted to be teachers, who wanted to go into nonprofits or join the Peace Corps, but who sought other professions with higher pay because they simply could not afford to pay off their loans and live a normal lifestyle that we wanted. I had many other friends who were aspiring entrepreneurs, who wanted to venture off on their own but could not afford to secure a small business loan due to their own already amounting debt from their education. And as a young adult who was fortunate enough to not have any loans, I thought about my own entrepreneurial aspirations to start my own real estate fund, and how burdensome student loans might have impacted or hindered these aspirations.

So sitting behind the desk, I began to think to myself, in the free world and in a country that enjoys such great wealth, how could this ever be possible? Here in America, the average college loan debt is around $26,000 and 70 percent of Americans who graduate from college have this debt. To me, this unequivocally is the most pressing youth issue, and a recent Harvard Institute of Politics survey would agree: 64 Millennial – percent of Millennials place economic concerns as a top priority.

So a couple years after my college graduation, I thought to myself, what can I do as a young person in a democratic society to fix this, to make sure that youth voices are collectively heard and taken seriously? The answer was political and civic involvement, but in order to have the profound impact that I was seeking, I couldn’t do it alone. I was going to need the help, activism, and voice of my peers, and most importantly, a global leader who would understand and embrace and address this growing concern. I knew Hillary Clinton would be that leader. In my eyes, she would be the most qualified individual to run for president and had the political skill and ability to work across the aisle with a divided Congress to pass commonsense legislation to tackle this mounting debt issue, and again, what I call the greatest issue to the youth in America.

So sitting in all-day lectures about how Ready for Hillary, a super PAC, was going to create an unparalleled grassroots infrastructure across the country, I thought that I could – if I could find a way to engage young people across the country to jump on board with my genuine belief in Secretary Clinton, we could put a woman in the White House who would have our back. But there was one major problem, folks. Amongst Millennials – age 18 to 35 years old here in America, and make up one-third of eligible voters – government distrust is at an all-time high. Only 23 percent of Millennial Americans trust the federal government. Yet it was my goal to devise a strategy to engage the entire demographic that was reluctant to get involved in the first place.

So what was my idea? I thought of a – in my experience hosting a lot of local politicians, that if you grab Millennials and you bring them in the room that have never been active before, and they get there and they come to the happy hour and meet and greet with a local politician, and they’ve never been exposed to this, they really get engaged and they get excited and they want to be involved.

So I thought to myself, well, if we could get Millennials active by just contributing a small amount – $20.16, call it to – for the 2016 election – that we could engage an entire demographic that has a all-time high distrust of the federal government and inactivity. So I created this structure for Ready for Hillary to host these events across the country by bringing mass amounts of folks out, and hosted my first event with 500 Millennials in the basement of a club with Governor Rendell of Pennsylvania, and we put together one of the most impressive showings of over 500 young folks in Philadelphia.

I continued to do this throughout the country in about five other cities – in Boston, Seattle, New York, Pittsburgh, and D.C. – and we prove that Millennials, when brought in on a small contribution amount, they will come out and be activists. And to borrow an accounting term, there is a tremendous amount of intangible value in these low-dollar contributions. And I think it’s very important, and so I’ve continued to implement this program for the Hillary for America Campaign, in that my belief that these $20.16 contributions will make folks, young folks, involved. They’ll bring their friends out; they’ll post on social media, and the intangible value of kind of free social media on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram that are up there for days to come. And most importantly, young people don’t just throw away $20, so they will come out and vote and follow through. And that’s the biggest issue we have in America, is youth turnout. So we can change this. The democratic process will be much better.

So I’ve implemented this program for Hillary for America and hosting a number of events across the country and becoming the youngest finance committee member nationally – national finance committee member for Hillary for America and engaging thousands upon thousands of young folks across the country. So for those – the media likes to paint a story that millennials don’t support Secretary Clinton or have – there’s a lack of support for Secretary Clinton. I say just the opposite, and I have the RSVPs to prove it.

So again, just getting back to our main issue, youth engagement is the biggest issue and student loans are the two primary issues that I like to address and think – when I think of America, that’s what I think of.

So thank you all today. I really appreciate it. And happy to take any questions.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Jose Carreno with Excelsior in Mexico City. You – there is a lot of talk about who are the millennials for, but every statistic I’ve seen is that most of them are a lot more liberal, more open socially, than the – than my current – than the current generation or my generation. So theoretically, at least, they should be mostly for Hillary Rodham Clinton, theoretically at least, or for the Democrats if not for Clinton. However, to what degree is that a reliable measure? To what degree is it a reality? To what degree are there politically committed?

MR KESSLER: Yeah, sure. Thank you very much for your question. Look, it’s pretty clear – actually a recent Pew poll shows that Secretary Clinton’s lead amongst millennials as opposed to Donald Trump – 71 percent to 19 percent. So look, I think millennials on the whole – you’re right – they are more socially open. Millennials are very inclusive. We make up that we are acceptive of every single gender or sexual orientation or race and ethnicity and religion. We’re the most diverse generation in the history of America. So we’re very inclusive, and we believe that Secretary Clinton embodies those values and represents our values as Americans and as citizens. Again, I just want to point to these percentages. She leads 71 percent amongst the millennial generation.

QUESTION: Will they vote actually? I mean, one thing you say, “Yes, I agree.” That’s different than saying, “I’ll go.”

MR KESSLER: Sure. Look, turnout – as I addressed in my opening remarks, turnout is certainly an issue. Millennials make up a third of the population, of the eligible voting population, and have just overtaken baby boomers as actually the largest demographic in the world. Look, turnout is an issue, and that’s why – I believe that millennials will turn out in the polls. And when you look at the opposite side of the ticket, Donald Trump and his dangerous and incoherent ideas and how temperamentally unfit he is for office, Americans and millennial Americans care about their futures. They care about being entrepreneurs. And if we’re imposing 40 percent tariff on imported goods, that will send this world into a global recession. I mean, I think that in enough is going to drive millennials out to the polls. And furthermore, Secretary Clinton has a very comprehensive program to tackle student load debt. And again, that is the most pressing issue to young folks. And I think that, singlehandedly, will drive folks out.

QUESTION: First of all, thank you very much for coming, and I’m sorry that most of us are doing something else right now, so you are pretty alone here. But you said something about hoping that Secretary Clinton would be able as president to cooperate across the floor. That is a little bit contrary to the fact that she is even more divisive than Barack Obama is, obviously. So what do you think that Clinton should do in order to become more of a unifying figure than she has managed so far and that Obama has managed, at least until recently?

MR KESSLER: Look, I don’t necessarily think that that’s true. I believe that when Secretary Clinton was in the Senate, she passed a number of pieces of legislation that were – when she – for instance, 9/11, she worked with Republicans across the aisle. She has a history and a track record of doing this, of reaching across the aisle. She worked with Republicans to secure funding post 9/11 in the state of New York and the city of New York.

So look, I think that – again, I think that this is a very polarized political climate that we live in right now, and it’s been tough. It’s tough for elected officials to outwardly compromise and advocate for that. But I think Secretary Clinton can do that, and I think she has a proven track record of doing that. So I think when she is – if and when she is elected president, you’ll see a effort to sit down with Republican leadership and move this country forward. I am – wholeheartedly believe that.

MODERATOR: Okay. Well, if that’s all the questions we have for today, have a great day. Thank you so much for coming. And the transcript will be posted online in a few hours. So thank you.

MR KESSLER: Thank you, everyone. I appreciate it.

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