Unions have taken some hits in New Hampshire in the past few years, particularly government employee unions. That, along with a hotly contested presidential election, might be a big reason why national labor organizations, like the AFL-CIO, are targeting New Hampshire leading up to the Nov. 6 election.
Historically, the AFL-CIO has been firmly behind Democratic candidates and initiatives. That hasn’t necessarily changed, but the organization is trying to focus less on candidates and parties and more on issues.
“We decided we couldn’t just sit back and tie our fortunes to one candidate or another,” said Elizabeth Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. Shuler visited New Hampshire’s Seacoast last weekend to energize voters and to recruit activists for canvassing efforts. “We had to build an infrastructure and do year-round mobilization, instead of just ramping up for an election and then trailing off after. So we decided to do something different and we hope more effective in keeping people engaged....”
After the 2010 election, an election in which Democrats lost across the board, the organization made the switch, Shuler said.
In that sense, the AFL-CIO can focus on key points, while clearly finding common ground with Democratic candidates, to mobilize voters and then to hold candidates accountable after an election. That should make for a more natural progression of the political process, Shuler said.
“I feel like we’ve got the energy level up,” Shuler said. “For the most part, people are really concerned about jobs and the economy.”
Shuler will visit eight or nine more states before the election. The AFL-CIO is targeting six key battleground states, including New Hampshire, as well as 25 others with direct mail, phone calls and door-to-door visits.
“We’ve been at it for a long time,” Shuler said. “Our program started earlier than it ever has before. You do risk a burnout. ... I have been surprised in the last few weeks, traveling to see people and canvassing. There are definitely a lot of conversations happening worker to worker, and I think that’s the most effective.”
Not just health care
When it comes to elections, women are often talked about in the context of health care and abortion. Candidates strive to get the “women vote” on Election Day. Democratic candidates in New Hampshire have charged that Republican candidates are attacking women’s abilities to make their own health care decisions. It’s not a new political strategy.
But it turns out that while, of course, women care about health care and abortion, they care about a lot more than that. When candidates, like just about all of them in New Hampshire, say this election is about jobs and the economy, there is really no argument there. The statement holds true for women too.
“A lot has been made of the war on women between the candidates and the gender gap,” Shuler said. “That women care about different things than men do. I think that’s true, but women are very much concerned about job opportunities. They care about the pay gap, pay equity.”
“Women are paying attention, but not just exclusively to so-called women’s issues,” Shuler added. “But women are just as concerned about those pocketbook issues, just like everybody else.”
The AFL-CIO is looking to organize the women’s vote in 2012.
“We’re trying to move women to talk to other women,” Shuler said. “We really think it’s powerful to have someone in the workplace or in the neighborhood talking to you, someone who looks like you and is a woman as well.”
Shuler said more and more women are concerned they are being pigeonholed with particular issues, like health care. Shuler said it’s not that health care issues aren’t important; they just aren’t the only things women care about. Trying to balance the demands of work and family — that’s the type of thing women, and today, all people care about it, Shuler said.
Since 2008, 16.8 million new young voters have registered to vote nationally. Groups are targeting those voters to make sure they hit the polls next month. The AFL-CIO is one of those groups.
In 2008, young voters turned out in record numbers. One of the big questions is how energized young voters will be for this election. In 2008, young voters outnumbered seniors at the polls.
“Are you going to let seniors beat you?” Shuler laughed, as she referred to her remarks to young voters at a recent event.