Political Atmosphere at Princeton
By Hannah McDonald-Moniz
Unigo Campus Rep at Princeton
Princeton University, though traditionally known to foster the bright young minds of future world leaders, is not known for its political activism. “The Princeton bubble,” as students affectionately call it, often seems to be a buffer between students and the real world, and with the rigorous academic and extracurricular lives that students lead, many feel as though they simply don’t have time to keep abreast of national politics. “Princeton has a long-held reputation for apathy,” said senior Robert Weiss, College Democrats president, “the common wisdom is that we are more wrapped up in our grades, job interviews, and investment banking prospects than in making a difference in the world.”
However, despite the fact that “Princeton is not known for its political activism,” a sentiment echoed by College Republicans president, senior Andrew Malcolm, this season’s election seems to be igniting interest in even the busiest students. This election has been widely heralded as historic—with the first African-American presidential nominee, and the first female vice-presidential nominee—and Princeton students have taken notice. “Students on both sides of the aisle are excited for the Presidential election,” said senior Josh Weinstein, the student body president.
Like most college campuses, Princeton leans toward the left, but the balance is more even here than at many other universities. The big difference this year is the level of involvement and interest, regardless of political affiliation. Whether engaging in private debates with friends or actively joining groups, the subject of politics is everywhere on campus. “The political climate this fall is amazing; you can feel the energy crackle,” Weiss said. Weiss explained that many of the College Democrats are particularly excited about Obama as a “once in a generation” candidate, “who speaks to our values, goals, and dreams.” Malcolm agreed that the two candidates themselves are an important factor in motivating students, stating that many “like John McCain’s message of reform and want to get involved.”
Both the Democrats and Republicans on campus have felt this surge of interest through an increase in their numbers and are excited about reaching out to the community as well as gaining new supporters. Malcolm stated that many new members “have never seen themselves as Republicans,” and also reported having many Clinton supporters move to the Republicans. Both groups are using this swell of membership to their advantage and are very active in these last few months before Election Day. Weiss explained that the Democrats have been fundraising, arranging outreach and volunteer opportunities, going door to door, and pairing with other campus groups who share a similar agenda. “We’re working hard to register students to vote, get them absentee ballots, and campaign in New Jersey and Pennsylvania,” Malcolm said of the Republicans.
Many of the issues in this election hit close to home for young people only a few years, or months, from joining the ranks of “the real world.” As Malcolm confirmed, an important issue to many Princetonians is the economy, “especially to us seniors who will be looking for jobs very soon.” Weinstein also listed health care and foreign relations, “galvanized by the Iraq War,” as key issues of interest to Princeton students, while Weiss added education, inequality, and global warming to this list.
Regardless of the outcome this November, Princeton students are coming together to work for important issues right now, and breaking through the traditions and stereotypes of political apathy. Students are getting involved in academic ways, by doing research, or through community action, such as volunteering or canvassing. Many feel there are finally personal issues at stake in this election, as they stand on the brink of graduation, and that there are true opportunities for change and reform. As Weiss nicely summed up, “It’s a great time to be at Princeton and just about everyone is getting involved in one way or another.”