Across the country, millions of dollars are being spent on political advertising, candidates are kissing babies and promises are being made every day leading up to the Nov. 6 general election. At Elon University, students have joined the election fray, with a surge of political events, awareness and engagement.
Junior Jordan Thomas, president of the College Democrats, said at a typical non-election event, the organization sees no more than 15 members in attendance, but this year, double that number are showing up to regular meetings, with four times that number attending events hosted with other organizations such as College Republicans or the newly-formed non-partisan Politics Forum.
“I believe that’s just the nature of Elon students, really engaged all the time,” he said. “Everyone wants to be involved and wants to help.”
Elon students attended the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. and the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in August and September, respectively. Students also contributed to the campaign in other ways. Junior Patrick Brown, president of College Republicans, said his organization has had activity at “Super Saturday” events at the local GOP “Victory Center,” calling voters to encourage them to vote Republican. Other events included volunteering at a local rally for North Carolina gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory.
The Elon administration has also fostered numerous politically-themed events and will continue to do so throughout the fall. Some recent events have included a panel on religion in the election and a visit from David Walker, former U.S. comptroller, who is on his nationwide “$10 Million a Minute” tour, educating people on the national debt crisis.
In a different vein, the philosophy department hosted “Young, Wild and Free: A celebration of democracy and pluralism” on the lawn of the Academic Pavilion Oct. 5. It was an informal event and included a performance by a blues band and a microphone where students could stand and express their views on any issues.
“The idea is to bring people out in a casual atmosphere and have meaningful conversation,” said senior Lizzy Appleby, who helped organize the event.
Several students echoed that sentiment when they turned up to watch the first presidential debate Oct. 3 at an event co-sponsored by the Politics Forum, College Republicans and College Democrats.
[quote]Once you become of age to vote, you have to become more interested in your life, I guess, and how your country is going to be working. -Freshman Matt Colbert[/quote]
“More and more, we see students aware of the process,” said senior Darien Flowers, executive president of the Student Government Association, who engaged in conversation with other students about the issues for some time after the debate concluded.
Stephanie Driscoll, a sophomore political science and international studies double major, came to the event in her Romney-Ryan hat.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for us to see both sides,” she said, adding she was glad to be able to watch the debate with people with opposing opinions.
Young voter practices
In 2008, young voters turned out in droves. In a recent Gallup Poll featuring data collected through Oct. 14, 61 percent of voters aged 18-29 said they will vote for President Barack Obama, coincidentally, the same percentage of voters that cast their ballot for him in 2008 against Sen. John McCain.
With slightly more than 68 percent of Elon students from outside the state of North Carolina, voting can be an issue, but this year, the university partnered with TurboVote, a program that helps people register to vote wherever they are. Sam Novey, the director of partnerships at TurboVote, said around 1,200 Elon students have registered to vote or registered for their absentee ballots as of Oct. 9.
“Elon’s done a great job of promoting the program and getting people to sign up,” he said.
And for many Elon students, particularly those who appear at political events, voting seems to be a high priority.
“If you don’t have a preference, then you can’t really complain,” Thomas said about those who choose not to vote. Freshman Matt Colbert said students should have a say in who is running their country.
“Once you become of age to vote, you have to become more interested in your life, I guess, and how your country is going to be working,” he said.
Colbert hadn’t registered to vote at the time of the interview. He was still deciding between registering in Elon or in his home state of South Carolina.
Caroline Medley, a sophomore from Richmond, Va., said she is registered to vote in her home state, but senses an air of awareness at Elon.
“I definitely think people here care about what happens in the election,” she said.
A partisan atmosphere?
At Elon, there are three student organizations strictly devoted to politics.
Brown said that while his involvement with College Republicans often makes him feel like the campus population tends to be more conservative, he thinks it’s probably fairly balanced between ideologies.
“I think that overall, Elon sponsors a pretty healthy debate,” he said.
Thomas, on the other hand, said the campus is fairly divided down the middle, but that most people tend to stay in neutral territory when interacting with others. Nevertheless, he did say that he feels Elon is a more socially liberal place.
“That’s just the atmosphere campus gives off,” he said.
Medley said she feels the same, but that may be because those who are socially active about liberal issues such as gay rights tend to be seen more.
“I think the democrats on campus are more vocal,” she said.
In the home stretch
With less than a week remaining until Election Day, North Carolina remains a battleground-state.
In the most recent Elon Poll, results indicate the president is leading Romney by a margin of 55-37 based on those who voted early, but of those who have not already voted, the Republican candidate holds a 48-34 percent advantage. North Carolina’s status as a battleground state also means a major candidate could still stop by, like on Oct. 16, 2008, when then-vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin held a small rally in Latham Park.
Eric Townsend, the director of Elon University News Bureau, said Elon would receive no more than five days advance notice if such an event were to occur.