The Political Vibe at the University of Utah

University of Utah

By Annie Paul
By Annie Paul
Unigo Campus Rep at Utah
Oct. 10, 2008

Utah Election1
One of many flyers posted in our Union advertising a Crimson Café, where students would watch the debate together, mingle and catch up on current events. 
As I was sitting in a Statistics class one day during the beginning of the fall semester of ’08, our professor asked, “If you poll someone at ‘random’ anywhere in the state of Utah about the candidate they’re most likely to vote for, what would that person say?” To which the entire class responded almost in what seemed to be sort of a robotic monotonous unison voice (it was very early in the morning, after all), “McCain.”

One of many flyers posted in our Union advertising a Crimson Café, where students would watch the debate together, mingle and catch up on current events.

Then our professor asked, “And what if you were to poll a student here at the University?” We replied (in the same lazy, somewhat uninterested way), “Obama.”

The State vs. the University 

Contrary to popular belief, the above example shows how independent the U seems to be from the state’s political preferences. Here, some feel a liberal ambiance — which could be good or bad, depending on what side you’re on or how tolerant you can be. This vibe is, well, freeing if you’re not part of the Mormon Church and want to forget you’re in a state that is considered to be (and pretty much mocked because of it) mandated by Mormon (and thus very Republican/conservative) morals People get the sense that the U doesn’t quite belong here. In fact, Lindsay*, a senior majoring in finance said her favorite thing about the U is that “it is a fairly liberal school.”

One example of the U’s “liberalness” is shown through a poll the Hinckley Institute of Politics conducted last September of nearly 1,200 students — nearly 4 percent of the student body. It revealed that while 45 percent perceive themselves as Republican and 31 percent call themselves Democrats, 59 percent support Obama and only 32 percent support McCain.

What could be one reason for this wide gap?

Andrew Warlaumont, an undecided sophomore considers it to be that “[Obama] wants to support more students getting into college and staying there.” Maybe so.

Why So Liberal? 

Apparently, the more educated one becomes, the more liberal one tends to be in one’s choices, as Catie Howell-Dinger, a junior majoring in English and Gender Studies has realized. She also thinks that this fact and similar others match very well the overall trends at the U and our faculty.

“I know that I have been pushed further left since I started, partially because of things I have learned in classes,” she said.

Yet even with all the optimism and hope and promises that seems to be floating around, Collin Brooksby Hafen, a senior and religious studies major, contended that he sensed frustration in the fact that, “our generation knows that it will be inheriting the mess that our parents created.”

Now surprisingly enough, Utah students seem very interested in national politics this year. This is something Oakley Gordon, a junior and president of the Utah chapter of the College Democrats, emphasized has been happening for the past four years. Christian*, a junior in Honors Business, agrees.

“Young people are getting more and more involved in politics,” he said. “The last [few] years have increased activism in young people who are basically just pissed off [about our current president and situation.]”

However, Vice Chairman of the Utah Federation of College Republicans Jeremy Strand admits that while “political awareness has never been stronger and [that] students know this election will be one of the most important ones of their lifetime,” he argues that “the U of U has… more conservative or Republican students that attend but the left is far [louder] and obnoxious, so the vibe I feel is much more liberal.”

On the Candidates and the Debate 

When it comes to Obama, students feel some of his strongest platforms are his desire to end the war and his economic aids. Specifically, Amanda*, a junior double-majoring in Middle-East studies and Arabic, suggested he could “withdraw from Iraq immediately, and then end the tax breaks to oil companies and other wealthy companies.”

On the other hand, those who support McCain focus mainly on his foreign policy and energy plans. Trevor*, a senior chemical physics major, argues that, if elected, McCain should focus on “improving our relations with the UN and get[ting] the U.S. on board with the Kyoto protocol and alternative energies.”

Regarding the first presidential debate late in September, those who support Obama undoubtedly argue that he was very confident and that his opponent “was shaky” the whole time.

Yet Nathan*, a senior in Accounting, felt that McCain had exceeded his expectations and Obama had performed under his expectations. He also thought that Obama had seemed a little nervous, which he admits could be considered, under national consensus, to simply mean he was being polite.

“[Yet] unfortunately, I am a college-aged male who appreciates [tenacity],” he said. “It did not vibe with my style.”

Some felt that both candidates had addressed their arguments to people who already agreed with their issues and that “neither did much to help their case, nor did they do much to help it,” as Christian, the junior introduced above, put it. Along those lines, another felt “disillusioned” and like the candidates were only talking the talk but didn’t seem willing to actually walk the walk come next year.

The U’s Efforts to Trigger Action 

Utah Election2
A sign portraying our “VoteProject,” an effort put on by our student government to register as many people on campus as possible. 

At the University alone, the “U VoteProject ’08,” a plan organized by the Associated Students of the University of Utah, encouraged eligible students to register for the upcoming presidential elections and collected over 2,500 registrations by the end of September and beginning of October — very impressive considering how early it was into the semester.

Student body Vice President Jon Hayes added that something else ASUU has been organizing is the Early Voting Station on campus, which will be open from the 21st to the 31st of October and will allow anyone registered in the county to vote at the U.

Additionally, students have also been noticing various clubs’ efforts to raise awareness about politics and they all agree that political issues have even worked their way into classroom discussions.

As Nathan, the senior introduced earlier, puts it, “in classes that gravitate toward political issues… students are eager to voice their opinions.” Anna*, a sophomore majoring in Psychology and Pre-Med admits that “[other students] always ask [us] who we’re going to vote for” and that “everybody talks about politics.”

For the Record 

In general, despite all the hype surrounding the election, the bailout, upcoming plans for the middle class, tax cuts, etc., U students seem pretty grounded and don’t let their concerns and troubles rule their lives or their studies.

Whitney Wallace, a Junior French major, sums it all up with words that pretty much can apply to every aspect at the U, be it its size, school pride, involvement, or what have you.

“There is a political ambiance but it is subtle,” she said. “[Yet] I think that you can make [that] atmosphere as strong or subtle as you like; you can become active in the campus political scene or you can choose to avoid it.”


* These students didn’t provide with me their last names, as they didn’t feel like wanting to be easily identified.