Political Climate at the University of Michigan Campus

University of Michigan Students

By Alison Denton

By Alison Denton
Unigo Campus Rep at University of Michigan
October 22, 2008

In the battleground state of Michigan, where 17 electoral votes are up for grabs in the national election, it is no wonder that University of Michigan students are in unique position to influence this year’s presidential race. Since the presidential campaign got its wheels turning over a year ago, university students from all ideological backgrounds have been present and involved in the campus politics.

“I think what makes this presidential election different”, said Ashleigh Rainko, a senior communication studies major and member of the College Republicans, “is that students feel like their vote really does matter.”

Undoubtedly, student interest in this year’s election was reflected in the record-breaking attendance of the newly united College Democrats first meeting this year. The Sept. 3 meeting welcomed hundreds of new members, increasing the already large group twofold.

This increase in support was a far cry from where the campus democrats stood when students left for summer break. In late April, as students prepared to leave campus for the summer, College Democrats were still staunchly divided in support of their party’s two candidates, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Similar to the efforts of other Clinton supporters, members of the Students for Clinton group amicably resigned their position in order to join the College Democrat’s efforts by the summer’s end.

Yet the meeting in September, which drew such a large presence some students had to be turned away, also attracted some important speakers. Two Democratic Michigan Senators, one Democratic National Committee member, and a State Senate Minority Leader all attended the meeting to inspire their fellow democrats.

While the College Democrats have proven to be a large presence on campus, their popularity has only been exceeded by their efforts. “Our goal is to register every student on campus”, said College Democrat member and junior political science major, Kelly Bernero. 

It’s an ambitious goal, but members of the College Democrats have hit the ground running since the start of the year by going door-to-door in the residence halls. At last calculation, democrats have worked hard to register 1,741 new voters on campus.

Holding a much smaller presence on campus are the College Republicans. With only 50 active members, the group’s approach to this year’s campaign centers around educating students on the issues , not registering voters .

“We realize our limitations on this primarily liberal campus”, explained Ashleigh Rainko, “but that doesn’t stop us from conducting our key responsibility to our party.” On a weekly basis, the College Republicans hold a phone bank in support of John McCain.

 The College Republicans will fulfill their goal of education by hosting debates with the College Democrats in early and late October sponsored by The Ford School of Public Policy. Volunteers from each group will debate policy points with one another in an effort to raise publicity on contested issues.

While student groups have done their best to keep the campaigns moderately respectful, the political discourse has been ugly at points. In late September, incendiary lies about Obama were chalked onto the central campus’ walk-ways. The writer of the messages still remains unknown.

In response, representatives from each party on campus collaborated to write an official announcement. Together, members of the College Democrats and College Republicans condemned the messages and urged students to use their political attitudes in a constructive manner

Any hard feelings were cleared when, just five days after the incident, the campus welcomed celebrity Obama supporters, Adam Brody and Rachel Leigh Cook. The two also made a brief appearance at a sorority house to meet with and speak to students about the Obama campaign.

Before the fateful day in November, university students can look forward to slew of events and even potential visits by the presidential nominees. Once the voter registration date passes in early October, students will have greater opportunities to canvass with their party outside of campus boarders.