Campus political orgs. rally student support
By Noah Reichblum, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, January 6, 2012
With the New Hampshire primary four days away, campus, state and national political groups are looking to energize an interested but uncertain student body.
In a 72-person survey conducted by The Dartmouth, 53 percent of students said they plan to vote for President Barack Obama in the upcoming primary, while 21 percent remain undecided. Former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., is the most popular among the Republican candidates, supported by 12 percent of the students.
The survey was given to a convenient sample of Dartmouth students by members of The Dartmouth Staff.
When asked to list the most pressing issue in the upcoming election, 35 percent of students surveyed cited the economy and job market, an issue that immediately affects recent college graduates.
“People are leaving college and going into one of the worst job markets in history,” Alyssa Farah, communications director for the College Republican National Committee, said in an interview with The Dartmouth.
All students, regardless of their political affiliation, will be affected, she said.
Since many Republican students are currently undecided, the College Republicans have focused on “providing resources” for students to learn more about each candidate College Republicans Vice President Robert Smith ’14 said.
“It presents a unique situation because you can’t rally around one candidate,” Smith said.
The New Hampshire primary marks a “really interesting laboratory,” government professor Linda Fowler told attendees at Thursday’s PoliTALK event on the primary.
“Voters tend to be driven heavily by personality because, after all, there’s not a lot of difference on policy grounds between candidates,” Fowler said.
While Obama is predicted to easily win the Democratic primary, College Democrats President Sam Lewis ’13 said he hopes for a large student turnout.
“We still want to show our support and show that President Obama will win the state in the general election,” Lewis said.
Of the students surveyed, 75 percent are already registered voters and 94 percent plan to vote in the general election.
However, only 38 percent of those surveyed said they plan to vote in the New Hampshire primary. While some respondents are registered in their home states and will vote via absentee ballot instead, Chris Clark ’14, vice president of the College Democrats of New Hampshire, said he thinks this year’s primary turnout among Democratic college students will be lower than that in 2008.
“I think there was a newness to it and a historical aspect with [President Obama] being the first black president,” Clark said.
Tyler Kuhn ’14 agreed that the lack of an incumbent in the presidential race contributed to the excitement surrounding Obama’s message of change in the 2008 election.
“One of Obama’s charms was that he did something that was totally new,” Kuhn said. “It’s very hard to recapture a ‘reformist’ platform as an incumbent.”
Smith said he also believes Republican participation will be lower than participation in the 2008 primary.
“With Romney polling at about 40 percent, there’s a sense of inevitability, whereas in 2008, McCain had finished fourth in the Iowa caucuses,” Smith said.
Romney currently holds a 19 point lead over second-place Ron Paul, R-Texas, according to Real Clear Politics’ Jan. 4 poll. Despite a low potential student voter turnout in the primaries, 66 percent of respondents labeled themselves as “politically active/aware.”
Both Lewis and Smith said they believe New Hampshire’s national importance in the primary race, coupled with an already politically-educated campus, contributes to the high percentage of politically-engaged students.
“One of the reasons I was originally attracted to Dartmouth was that I realized we would have access to candidates,” Smith said.
Dartmouth’s location gives students a unique opportunity to contribute to the electoral process.
“We’re in a lucky position to be in a state where it matters,” Lewis said.
The Republican Debate at Dartmouth in the fall also helped raise student awareness, according to Joshua Schiefelbein ’14, College Libertarians president.
“Being able to be up close and personal, it creates a hook,” he said.
Kevin Cox ’13, who wrote an article in NextGen Journal on Jan. 5 in support of former Gov. Jon Huntsman, R-Utah, said he enjoyed having the ability to meet presidential candidates in person through various Dartmouth events.
“I got to see Huntsman speak over the summer when he came here,” Cox said. “It definitely makes you more aware of what they stand for.”
Cox is a member of The Dartmouth Sports Staff.
New Hampshire’s voting laws allow independents to vote in both the Democratic and Republican primaries and require only photo identification and no prior registration, making it easier to convince students to vote in the upcoming primary, according to Clark.
House Bill 176, which would have virtually prevented college students from voting in state or local elections, failed in the New Hampshire House of Representatives last spring.
However, a new version of the bill will soon be re-submitted in the House, according to Clark.
The College Democrats of New Hampshire “have been putting advertisements out on the airwaves about people getting registered before the bill,” Clark said.
The group recruited 525 new members during a 2010 event and plans to hold a state-wide registration day this February, he added.
The College Republican National Committee also hopes to gain support among college students in the coming months, according to Farah.
“In 2010, we deployed 25 field representatives who recruited 20,000 new College Republicans,” Farah said in an email to The Dartmouth. “Now going into 2012, we’re very confident that we’ll have record numbers of young people come out.”
The national group is currently targeting states such as New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Florida to actively recruit, she said.
The Dartmouth College Republicans held a registration drive in November and co-hosted a debate with the College Democrats and College Libertarians to raise awareness about political candidates.
“We’ve been able to get a lot more publicity for the organization and a lot of people are a lot more interested,” Smith said.
The group also brought in a speaker from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, which was “well attended,” he said.
In addition, the Dartmouth College Democrats — in collaboration with Robert Avruch ’11, an employee of Obama’s national reelection campaign — will work to directly garner student support for Democratic candidates.
“We’re going to be working closely with the local campaigns and with the Obama Campaign,” Lewis said.
The Dartmouth College Democrats are considering various dates to canvass and will work closely with the College Democrats of New Hampshire.
The New Hampshire primary holds special importance for presidential hopefuls because it is the first in the presidential election primary cycle.
Since 1976, the Republican presidential candidate in the national election has won either the New Hampshire primary or the Iowa caucus, according to Gallup.