Throughout this tumultuous election season, the two major parties share at least one commonality: college students have participated in the 2016 presidential campaigns on campuses nationwide. Republicans and Democrats on Emory’s campus have both worked in bipartisan efforts to register voters, inform students and separately campaign for their respective candidates, Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Historically, millennial voters aged 18 to 35 have the lowest turnout rate in general elections, and for voters under the age of 22, this will be the first presidential election in which they are eligible to vote, inciting a need for efforts to encourage voter registration.
“The laws that are made now will have a greater effect on young people, as we have more of our lives ahead of us, and I think that it’s everyone’s civic duty to vote and participate in the process,” College freshman Vanessa Ishimwe said.
Ishimwe, a Young Democrats of Emory member, aided in the organization’s voter registration drive. This semester, the efforts of both the Young Democrats and Emory College Republicans have focused primarily on encouraging first-time voters to register to vote. Specifically, the Young Democrats have created a voter outreach and organization committee this fall, co-chaired by College sophomore Kate Schnitzer and Goizueta Business School senior Nick Lal.
“The committee itself didn’t take sides because the effort to get students to register is bipartisan,” Schnitzer said. “We set up tables outside the [Dobbs University Center] and the [Robert W. Woodruff] Library and ended up registering close to 200 people.”
Committee members helped students fill out absentee ballot forms, and also encouraged students to register in Georgia, Schnitzer said. Although Georgia may be a red state traditionally, polling suggests that it could give its electoral votes to a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time in 25 years, College senior and Fellow to the Clinton Campaign Rebecca Flikier said.
“Students actually have the power if we put enough effort into this campaign,” Flikier said. “It would be really exciting for Emory students to say that when we got to Georgia, it was a red state, and we played a role in turning it blue.”
The same logic holds true for Trump supporters, who are choosing to register to vote in the now-up-for-grabs state of Georgia.
“Being from New Jersey, no matter what happens, [New Jersey is] going to go to the left,” College freshman and Trump supporter Harry Shepherd said. “Georgia is a little more of a battleground state, so I actually registered to vote in Georgia instead of New Jersey [because] my vote [would have] a little more meaning [here] than it would back home.”
A Clinton campaign volunteer since Summer 2015 and a self-proclaimed “day one” Clinton supporter, Flikier is a fellow for the Clinton campaign headquarters in Atlanta. Her responsibilities include coordinating and training volunteers and researching voting trends for campaign staffers. Every Wednesday evening is college night at the headquarters, and Emory Students for Hillary join other students from the Atlanta region in phone banking to reach out to voters directly. Flikier is enthusiastic about the campaign’s efforts and is confident in its ability to win both the state and the general election. She has already booked plane tickets for the January 2017 inauguration.
Students from both sides of the political spectrum have participated in various elections at the local, state and national levels. College junior and Young Democrats President William Palmer said he found his passion for politics after canvassing for U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) 2010 Senate campaign. College freshman Elias Neibart was involved in Ted Cruz’s 2016 primary campaign in his home state of New Jersey.
“I was the youngest town chairman in New Jersey, and that was something I felt really passionate about. … I made phone calls and was in charge of volunteer acquisition,” Neibart said. “The campaign invited me to New Hampshire to knock on doors, make phone calls for the primary and [the campaign was] willing to pay for me to go to other primary states in order to do things there.”
Neibart’s involvement in campaign activities in high school continued in college to his co-founding chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom at Emory, a conservative activist organization that does not directly support a candidate. Neibart noted his dissatisfaction toward the Emory College Republicans endorsing Trump after the audio of disparaging comments the candidate made about women in the leaked 2005 NBC tape.
“When you get involved in these campaigns, it’s a really selfless act because you’re not really working for yourself,” Neibert said. “You put yourself out there, and you try to do your best for a cause you believe in.”
Campaign activities have become increasingly close to home for students, especially in the case of phone banks. These events can be set up anywhere, only require students to have a laptop and a phone and allow supporters to speak directly to members of the electorate. In an effort to engage freshmen on campus, the Emory Young Democrats have set up banks in study lounges in freshman residence halls, including Raoul and Longstreet-Means..
College senior and Republican Josh Goodman also participated in election activities by calling in to a radio show in Savannah, Ga., and speaking to students on campus about what he calls the “mud-slinging” between the two candidates
“It’s great getting to hear feedback from different people, because everyone has a different perspective because of their personal experiences, their upbringings, their situation,” Goodman said. “You definitely learn different perspectives that … — even if you didn’t agree — are not necessarily wrong.”
According to Palmer and Schnitzer, efforts to involve the student community in the political process will continue after the election has ended.
“I want to see the Young Democrats grow and propel Emory to be a force of change,” Palmer said. “This year, we will be advocating for women’s and LGBT rights at the state House especially, where we have a lot more bargaining power.”
Overall, leadership and members from both political groups on campus have urged community members to exercise their right to vote, regardless of political affiliation.
“Because students have traditionally not voted, the millennial voice has been underrepresented,” Palmer said. “Our issues have been ignored because we don’t advocate on behalf of our interests at all.”