Wednesday Q+A With Joseline Mata

The president of College Democrats of America discusses motivating young voters and the 2020 field.

Alex Clearfield
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Alex Clearfield
March 6, 2018, 8 p.m.

Joseline Mata, a senior at the University of Arizona, has served as national president of the College Democrats of America since October 2017 and is a vice chairwoman of the Arizona Democratic Party. Mata spoke with Alex Clearfield about midterm enthusiasm, the effect of #MeToo on campus politics, and areas of common ground with College Republicans.

College students are historically a low-propensity voting population. How do you get less politically engaged students involved in a non-presidential-election year?

One of the big things CDA does with the [Democratic National Committee] is participating in the I Will Vote campaign, which is a partnership with almost every state party and multiple organizations to get people to commit to vote. That means making a voting plan, which statistically makes people more likely to vote. It’s something we’re going to be doing across all our 455 chapters in 40 states. … Alongside that, [DNC Chairman] Tom Perez has donated to CDA so we have the funding to be across campuses promoting our organization and increase our membership at the chapter level. By doing that, we can not only utilize kids on campus but to go around to all the housing and dormitories.

How do you get CDA members involved in campaigns?

We’re really pushing it as a growth opportunity. We’ve developed a résumé bank with the DNC so students in our chapters can get jobs on campaigns and build up their skills so they can continue to use them after they graduate. … We want to be the future campaign managers, the future finance directors.

A number of Democratic-leaning states have popular Republican governors up for reelection. How do you go about convincing your members these are worthwhile races to get involved in?

Traditionally, one of the big issues that affects college Democrats most directly is education. In a lot of these states, we have Republican governors who aren’t really investing in public education. Regardless of their popularity, if they’re not doing right by the college students, that’s an issue we can focus on and use to increase turnout.

What were your main takeaways from 2017’s special elections and the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections?

We saw an uptick in turnout on campuses. Virginia was 8 percent. A lot of the people who pushed Doug Jones were voters ages 18-29. College students are interested in these elections. … We’re pushing for people to understand we’re an important voting bloc.

As an official organ of the Democratic Party, how do you bridge the gap with students who are disillusioned with or outside of the two-party system?

We have seen that. A lot of what we do is those one-on-one conversations our members have with their peers, reminding them that it’s understandable to be frustrated and think things are broken, but showing them what the Republican agenda looks like.

Has there been a downtick in enthusiasm among college Democrats without Bernie Sanders on the ballot?

A lot of people love Bernie. It’s been great to watch him. We have plenty of people who came from that movement, who became engaged because of Bernie Sanders, and are now College Democrats.

College students have been among the most vocal advocates in the #MeToo movement. Has that translated to involvement in electoral politics?

I think it has, especially since Betsy DeVos is trying to strip away Title IX, which is a huge protection on campus for reporting sexual assault. Plenty of students have started to get more active in electoral politics because they truly believe we have to protect Title IX.

Is the momentum on gun control resulting from the Parkland shooting going to carry through the rest of this cycle and move a lot of voters to vote on gun issues?

Personally, I think that is going to be the case. … Coming from Gabby Giffords’s district, being active in the community and having a relationship with her … the issue is really coming at a time when we have the opportunity to have that conversation because of the midterms. I’m in a swing district [Arizona-02], and it’s coming up in interview after interview with all the candidates.

What prominent Democrats resonate most among younger voters?

This is in no way an endorsement, but Kamala Harris. … Cory Booker is another person people mention. What I’ve seen across the board is everyone is excited about younger candidates who are people of color.

What policy areas has CDA found common ground with College Republicans on?

Here in Arizona, we’re working with College Republicans on a bill to decrease the age to run for state office. … When it comes to social issues, we do tend to agree on a lot more.

What will be the lasting legacy of the Trump administration?

Stripping [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] has really affected current students. A lot of us know fellow students who are DACA recipients, and I think that’ll be a lasting legacy—that he took away opportunities from our friends and colleagues.

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