The Class of 2024 entered college amid one pivotal election year and concluded their education at the onset of another. With the 2024 presidential election approaching, Emory University students and faculty looked back on political involvement on campus over the last four years, which have been highlighted by several political landmarks ranging from the 2020 election that flipped Georgia blue for the first time since 1992 to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in 2022.

The importance of politics is not new at Emory, which has long been committed to educating students about voting and facilitating voter registration, according to Associate Professor of Political Science Andra Gillespie. However, she has noticed increased urgency about voting in recent years.

“That’s certainly something that’s very different than when I started working here in the mid-2000s,” Gillespie said. “Even though people cared a lot about voting … there certainly is a much more concerted and centralized effort to encourage students to vote.”

Mirroring 2020, the 2024 presidential election is set to be a rematch between Biden and Trump. (Ivana Chen/Staff Illustrator)

Voter engagement efforts in 2020

In 2020, U.S. President Joe Biden became the first Democrat to win the presidential election in Georgia in 28 years, beating former U.S. President Donald Trump by 11,779 votes in the state and subsequently winning the presidency. Gillespie explained that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted people’s evaluation of Trump as president, especially among undecided voters.

Associate Professor of Political Science Bernard Fraga noted that students played an important role in the election.

“The only thing that I noticed came along with Georgia being a battleground state was a very highly interested and engaged student population,” Fraga said.

Emory Fair Fight U President and Young Democrats of Emory Director of Communications Hayley Jones (24C) became politically involved at Emory as a first-year student, when she called Georgia voters from her dorm room for hours, encouraging them to vote, in addition to registering students to vote in Asbury Circle. Although campus was quiet amid the pandemic, Jones felt the community’s enthusiasm for the election — she said it was “thrilling.”

“Living in a state, in a county, with such a substantial capacity for real change was something that felt really unique and powerful,” Jones said.

Young Democrats of Emory executive board member Royce Mann (25C), who was a first-year student during the 2020 election and ran for a seat on the Atlanta Board of Education, said he participated in digital outreach, such as organizing virtual town halls and engaging with students through social media.

Former Emory College Republicans President Christian Zimm (15Ox, 17C, 20B, 20L) told The Emory Wheel in December 2020 that Trump’s candidacy led to an increase in student engagement. Emory College Republicans are no longer active.

“There was a lot of excitement for Trump because he talked just like every other person and said it how it was,” Zimm said. “He’s a once in a generation type of a candidate, so a lot of the excitement was for people to get out there and vote for him.”

Mann stated that Georgia played a vital role in the U.S. political landscape.

“Over the last few years, starting in 2020 and then in 2022 again, Georgia has been, in many ways, the center of our domestic political universe,” Mann said.

Fraga also emphasized that Georgia was contentious in the 2020 presidential election. Trump attempted to overturn the election results, asking Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780.” 

“The 2020 presidential election was very close and very controversial, in no place more so than in Georgia,” Fraga said.

In January 2021, a few months after Biden’s victory, Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) won their Senate runoff elections against former Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), respectively, securing Democratic control of the Senate for the first time since 2014. Warnock’s win also made him the first Black senator in Georgia’s history.

Emory College Republicans collaborated with the Emory Votes Initiative and the Georgia Association of College Republicans to support voter registration efforts in the Senate runoffs.

Former Emory College Republicans President Jasmine Jaffe (22C) told the Wheel in December 2020 that she was “not super comfortable” working with Young Democrats and Fair Fight on voter registration initiatives.

“Even if we do have common interest in registering people to vote, I think they’re just more partisan in that,” Jaffe said. “It’s not fair to people who just want to be registered to vote.”

Supreme Court decisions

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022 after nearly half a century of legalized abortion. In a political statement, University President Gregory Fenves called the ruling a “regression.”

Young Democrats of Emory Vice President Avery Rosen (25C) said she believes the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the Georgia legislature limiting access to abortions heightens inequities for those who cannot afford to raise a child.

“Because a lot of Emory students come from places where abortion is legal, people are obviously very upset about it, and hopefully that will continue to motivate them to vote blue up and down the ballot,” Rosen said.

Former Emory College Republicans Chairman Robert Schmad (23C) wrote in an August 2022 message to the Wheel that the Supreme Court’s decision was like “clutching a Fortnite victory royale for the conservative movement.”

“Almost all my pro-life friends were equal parts ecstatic and astounded,” Schmad said. “The right, and the religious right in particular, isn’t accustomed to winning culture war battles.”

At large, Fraga said that the Supreme Court has made a number of decisions that could energize young, mostly Democratic voters to engage politically. Since 2020, the Supreme Court has also struck down affirmative action and backed Colorado web designer Lorie Smith’s decision to not provide services for same-sex marriages.

Early voting in the 2022 elections

Warnock visited Emory on Nov. 19, 2022, after the 2022 Georgia Senate race advanced to a runoff. He encouraged the Emory community to vote, saying, “what you do in this moment is a letter to the future.”

Mann served as a youth engagement coordinator for Warnock and worked to bring the senator to college campuses in Georgia.

“The young folks see the stakes — they see how high they are,” Mann said. “We know that, especially in Georgia, every single vote really does count.”

Warnock ultimately won Georgia’s Dec. 6, 2022 Senate runoff election against his Republican opponent, Herschel Walker.

Warnock’s fight to maintain his Senate seat in 2022 marked the first time Emory’s 1599 Clifton Road building was the official voting location for DeKalb County. The location saw high early voter turnout when early voting opened on May 2, 2022. Gillespie said the location was convenient and accessible for all members of the Emory community and cited Georgia’s “generous early voting policies,” which allow polls to be open over four weeks before Election Day. Despite this, Rosen said that Emory students voting at polls encountered difficulties, facing wait times of up to an hour and a half.

Disillusionment with 2024 presidential election

Mirroring 2020, the Nov. 5 presidential election is set to be a rematch between Biden and Trump. Leading up to Election Day, Georgia is once again a national focus, with Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (96L) leading an investigation into Trump and his allies’ alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. The former president pleaded not guilty to 13 felony counts including election fraud, racketeering and making false statements. Willis garnered national attention after she disclosed that she had a “personal relationship” with special prosecutor Nathan Wade.

Given the attention surrounding election-related discourse, Emory School of Law Distinguished Professor Thomas Arthur emphasized the importance of free expression in political debates on campus. He explained that, over the past four years, members of the Emory community have further realized that they can disagree with others but still tolerate open expression. However, Jones noted that like many universities across the country, Emory is predominantly liberal, which could cause imbalanced viewpoints.

“Sometimes it has the potential to silence opposing views, which is really hard,” Jones said. “Ultimately, that’s how you learn, hearing the other side of it.”

Jones also noted prevalent divisions currently on campus, such as conflict surrounding the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. She anticipates a “really tough battle” in the upcoming election, partly due to a sense of political fatigue.

“This year, it’s definitely felt like the general fervor and optimism that was on campus in 2020 is not really there anymore,” Jones said. “That reflects a sentiment that’s prevailing at the national level. There’s a significant sense of division, and more than anything, kind of just discontentment and burning out.”

Rosen expressed a similar sentiment, adding that reaching the same degree of excitement about politics this year will be a challenge, which could reduce some peoples’ motivation to head to the polls.

“They want to be able to show up and vote for somebody who they truly believe in, but there are a lot of young folks who don’t see a candidate who is that person for them right now,” Mann said.

However, Jones hopes that excitement among students will increase as the election draws closer. Mann also believes that young voters will mobilize.

“I expect that young people will still turn out in large numbers to voice their opposition to … Donald Trump, but I definitely think that President Biden has a lot more work to do to earn those votes,” Mann said.

Beyond the ballot

Reflecting on his four years of political involvement at Emory, Mann said his role in connecting students with elected officials and candidates has been “really rewarding.”

“Being able to help ground folks in the Emory community in the issues that are going on … around our campus has been a great way to get folks feeling more invested and more engaged in what’s going on politically,” Mann said.

Additionally, Rosen urged Emory students to be politically involved.

“If you’re not convinced by one of the top two candidates, please vote down the ballot because who our state legislators are [is] just so important to the actual physical policies and rules and regulations that we live under every day, even as just Emory students who might only be here for four years,” Rosen said.

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Lauren Yee (25Ox) is a news editor at The Emory Wheel. She is from Hong Kong and is majoring in religion. Outside of the Wheel, Yee serves on the boards of the Phi Gamma Literary Society and the Oxford Ensemble of Shakespearean Artists. In her free time, you can find her playing the saxophone, watching musicals or enjoying an iced oat milk matcha!