Despite the dramatic state of the Republican primaries, Stanford students’ reactions to the campaigns vary in interest and involvement. However, a number of student organizations on both sides of the political spectrum have begun to participate in the race.
Students for Mitt, an advocacy group for GOP candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign, plans to organize phone banks to voters in swing states as well as host a high-profile event on campus in the spring.
Reagan Thompson ’11, president of the group, contended that her organizations’ efforts will be significant, not only because she believes Romney is the candidate most suited to run the country, but because it proves Stanford students “are not all the same [and] don’t all say the same things,” but have diverse political opinions.
Conservatives on campus have had diverse reactions to the GOP field. Kenny Capps, an officer in Stanford Conservative Society, cited some concerns over Romney’s wavering positions on issues such as immigration, abortion, and the individual mandate on healthcare.
In diversity, the views of conservatives on campus parallel the division in the Republican Party nationally, as voters fail to rally around one nominee. However, there are some important differences. According to Capps, conservatives at Stanford are more fiscally conservative than socially conservative on the whole, and in this regard Romney’s moderate leanings are not as problematic to students.
Thompson, responding to this concern about Romney claimed that “politicians have to be pragmatic, basically you’re on one side of the aisle or another.” Moreover, Thompson argued that should Romney win the nomination, Republicans would overcome their initial misgivings expressed in the primary season and rally around him as the candidate mostly likely to beat Obama. In this campaign, unity among conservatives seems to include a measure of pragmatic calculation as much as ideological affiliation.
Student groups representing the Democrats have also begun advocacy efforts. The Stanford Democrats plan to organize phone banks as well as host issue-specific lunches and dinners where faculty and students can discuss political issues.
Rahul Sastry ‘11, Vice President of the Stanford Democrats said the discussions would, “not necessarily be from a democratic perspective” but rather aimed “to overall increase everyone’s understanding of what’s going on.” In addition, the group is considering campaign trips to swing states like their journey to Nevada in 2008.
Indeed, comparison with Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign is a big question facing the Democrats on campus. Although Obama’s campaign has not started in full force, they are preparing for the challenge of replicating 2008 levels of enthusiasm and participation.
Of 2008, Sastry asserted that, “unquestionably, 2008 was unprecedented.” He reflected that students may be less enthusiastic at this point because they have been able to critically evaluate the success of Obama’s presidency in light of the high expectations at the time of its inception. Lindsay Lamont, the president of Stanford Demorcrats maintained that as students “refocus on the big picture…Obama’s past supporters will be impressed.”
While student groups are revving up their advocacy, suggesting a level of excitement that matches the fervor of the national climate, the general student body may have a different level of investment. Ben Holguin, a junior majoring in Symbolic Systems said that apart from certain student groups, “Stanford for the most part is an apolitical campus.” In his experience, students have followed the campaigns “peripherally” but do not feel “vested in the results.”
Kyle Michelson ’15, claimed that students have been watching the primaries “ironically” and view them “as more of a joke.” While these two opinions hardly constitute the opinions of the general student body, they may suggest a level of disparity between the aspirations of political organizations on campus and the conditions of students on the ground.
The leaders of student groups are aware of this attitude and attribute it to the early stage in the race. They are committed, however, to move beyond partisanship and combat political indifference. As Lamont put it, “our goal is to not only re-elect President Obama, but to also dramatically increase Stanford’s turn out at the polls and involvement in the campaign processes.”