[Vision2020] Dusting off democracy: Local students speak out on national politics

Moscow Cares moscowcares at moscow.com
Fri Apr 29 14:22:16 PDT 2016

Courtesy of the University of Idaho Argonaut at:


Dusting off democracy: Local students speak out on national politics

As a left-leaning city in a traditionally red state, Moscow is a fascinating place to be politically active, said ASUI Director of Policy Nick Wren.

“When you go to college you always hear people say, ‘Oh, universities are massively liberal,’ but I think that takes more of a spin at an Idaho university,” Wren said. “There is such a dichotomy and our area has a very different dynamic 3/4 you get people from all over the spectrum.”

And as a volatile presidential primary race nears a transition into what has the potential to be an even uglier general election, Wren said students of all ideologies and political orientations are more vocal than ever.

University of Idaho political science professor Juliet Carlisle said although students tend to be disinterested in politics most of the school year, she has noticed this time of the year brings out more cognitive political engagement in UI students, especially inside the classroom.

“What I witness is students are a lot more interested in talking about politics because they hear it on the news and they see it on social media,” Carlisle said. “Talking about candidates and applying ideas that they hear becomes a lot more prevalent and ripe because it’s campaign season.”

Carlisle said she has found this campaign season particularly interesting for college-aged students because it differs from the political norm. With such strong media attention on presidential underdogs, she said there is a unique perception that drives unlikely candidates. 

“I think on Bernie Sanders’ side, and even with regard to Donald Trump supporters, that attention is driving some of the political phenomenon that we see,” Carlisle said.

Something new

At a Wednesday panel discussion on the 2016 presidential campaign, Leontina Hormel, a UI sociology professor, said Bernie Sanders might fit into the category of crazy for voters.

“Bernie Sanders seems wacko because he is not backing off of saying very unpopular things, Hormel said. “That comes across pretty crazy, when we are used to the same old discussion from politicians about socialism versus free market systems.”

Yet Hormel said she thinks young voters connect with the unconventionality of the Sanders campaign. 

“I think the youth are seeing that having the squabble of people saying, ‘You can either have socialism or free market enterprise,’ but those arguments are not working for them anymore,” Hormel said.

UI international studies senior Courtney Stoker, who will represent Bernie Sanders as a Latah County delegate in June, said she has also noticed a spike in national political engagement on college campuses, which she attributes to the success of unlikely presidential candidates. 

“I think just having people see candidates up there that aren’t the typical run-of-the-mill candidate gets people really excited and want to get involved,” Stoker said.

Stoker said during the democratic caucus, it was UI students in attendance who made the difference for Bernie Sanders, who swept the Latah County caucus March 22.

“I do think that more students had voted in this primary than many past ones,” Stoker said. “More and more people are beginning to care about national politics thanks to this campaign season.”

Although most of the time, Stoker said it is hard to find UI students engaged in politics, she said she finds that’s the case with many other colleges as well. Yet she said with social media’s strong presence in the lives of students, Stoker said the most unlikely people have been more likely to take to social media posting political messages and photos in relation to political candidates. 

“Say what you will about Donald Trump, but I think his social media presence is at least getting people to talk about the election and the election process,” Stoker said. “He might be going about it in the wrong way, but it definitely brings attention to politics.”

Plugged in

Jon Miller, a UI business and economics professor, said at Wednesday’s forum the campaign season is only going to become crazier leading to an unpleasant general election.

“Once we get to the general election, whoever is on the republican side, whether it is Donald Trump or Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton on the left, it is going to be very ugly,” Miller said. “It might just be the ugliest election in our recent political history.”

UI Faculty Senate representative and political science freshman Lindsey LaPrath said she has noticed a great number of students who take to social media to express their political views.

“The effect of social media on campaigns has been really interesting to look at, and I think that is what makes this election cycle so different,” Laprath said.

LaPrath said no matter their political affiliation, college-aged voters will look for political change that affects the national economy.

“I think there is a lot that is going to affect our age group, but anything that has to do with economics really impacts college students,” LaPrath said. “That is our weight and burden as we get older.”

With social frustrations also on the forefront of media attention, Carlisle said candidates who pay more attention to social action garner a larger voter base from college-aged students.

Heather Colwell, a senior political science major at UI, said this election cycle speaks to and resonates with the millennial generation on campus because students are slowly becoming more engaged in politics.

Although Colwell said students often seem to be disengaged with politics at UI, she said it is easily discernable what political party affiliation a student might fit into based on their college.

“I see that different political ideologies gather in specific colleges most of the time,” Colwell said. “As a whole, I think the political climate here is fairly progressive, but then again there are also many areas of campus that gather a large conservative standing.”

Jumping-off point

Wren, who is also a senior biochemistry major, said although his major does not revolve around politics, his involvement with the College Republicans organization and work with ASUI have maintained his interest in national politics. 

Wren said no matter the party affiliation, the most important part of being politically involved on campus is interacting with students of all ideologies. He said John Kasich currently resonates with him the most out of all other candidates, and this affiliation might surprise some.

“People are going to laugh because they don’t even think Kasich is still running at this point, but I have been a John Kasich supporter since the beginning,” Wren said. “However, it’s not like I’m going out and making buttons or anything.”

Wren said this feeling of being politically active translated from his high school years.

“At the end of the day I just like being able to interact with people and achieve a common goal,” Wren said. “I like the aspect of being in a position where I can help other people and enact other people’s ideas.”

Stoker said from her student perspective, she thinks the political affiliation of the Moscow community tends to impact students who still have yet to decide their political party.

“I think that Moscow rubs off on students a little bit if they get out in the community enough,” Stoker said. “But if you are just a typical students that only goes to class and stays in your dorm room, then I’m not sure that there is a lot of impression or caring there.”

Carlisle agrees that college-age dstudents are the most impressionable when it comes to making decisions regarding political affiliation. Because students are more open to learning than other age groups, she said the shifting of political ideologies and the crossing of party lines will likely be prevalent during this campaign season. 

“As I always say to my students, one of our most stable identities is our political orientation, however, college students are so much more open to change,” Carlisle said. “If change is going to happen, it is going to happen during this election to those who are young and untethered to a specific party.”

Wren said students who don’t feel bound to a certain political identity or candidate this season will bring about two types of voters — those who haven’t done their research and those who have done copious amounts of research. No matter the outcome, he said it is always amusing to see students who end up thinking differently and switching party alliances.

“I think what would really be interesting is to see how students vote this election and to see how voting turns out four to eight years from now,” Wren said. “This election season is a real jumping off point.”


Seeya 'round town, Moscow, because . . .

"Moscow Cares" (the most fun you can have with your pants on)
Tom Hansen
Moscow, Idaho

"There's room at the top they are telling you still.
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill,
If you want to be like the folks on the hill."

- John Lennon
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