UVA’s Political Balance

University of Virginia Students

By Kathryn Owen

By Kathryn Owen
Unigo Campus Rep at UVA

As I walk down the steps of Alderman Library, a girl holding a clip board asks me if I have registered to vote in Virginia.  Like most people on grounds, I already have.  I keep going and pass an outdoor bulletin board where a poster featuring Barack Obama fist bumping Michelle tells me to “Vote for Change” and a flier notifies me that Congressman Virgil Goode, fighting for re-election, will be speaking at the College Republicans meeting this week.  When I arrive at Newcomb Hall, another person asks me if I have registered to vote.  I pick up a Cavalier Daily, the school’s newspaper, and on the front page is an article about the financial crisis.  Inside, there are two opinion pieces, each advocating a different candidate’s economic policy.

Anyone passing through grounds can see that UVA has an active political climate for those who wish to participate.  For those who have no interest in politics, however, they are easy enough to ignore. 

As Sarah Buckley, a fourth year and president of University Democrats, known as UDems, noted, “There are pockets of extremely active students and pockets of less active students.  There are places for both.”

Some see the majority of the student body as apathetic while others see it as highly enthusiastic.  Some see the majority of the student body as left-leaning, while others see it as more conservative for a university.  Since UVA is a larger school, it is simplest to describe it as balanced. 

In general, there seems to be a pervasive excitement for the upcoming presidential election.  Emily Poe, a third year English major and associate editor for the Cavalier Daily, regularly covers political stories and has noticed a significant change in the political climate

“Since coming back to school after the summer, I have noticed a huge increase in excitement about this election and an increase in student involvement,” Poe said. 

She cited both partisan and non-partisan student group activities, particularly voter registration efforts, as ways in which students are getting involved. 

Meanwhile, College Republicans chairman Savanna Rutherford, a fourth year Politics and History major, said that her group has been working on “grassroots campaign efforts, such as going door to door and phone banking” in order to promote conservative candidates. 

UDems also does door to door canvassing and phone banking.  Both groups take trips to different districts to help campaign and plan to work at polling stations.   The partisan groups also team up with other organizations on grounds to raise awareness for specific causes.  For example, UDems teams up with the Minority Rights Coalition and Student Environmental Action.   

The number one issue UVA students seem most anxious about, like the rest of the nation, is the economy.  As fourth years will be entering the job market soon, they are worried about what opportunities will be available to them.  Gas prices are also a concern. 

The second most cited issue is environmental sustainability and energy policy.

“It is our generation that will deal with the repercussions,” Poe said.

Finally, foreign policy and the War in Iraq are also mentioned as significant issues, though there are sharp disagreements regarding how they should be handled.   

As almost 70 percent of UVA students are from Virginia, state politics are of particular importance, probably more so than at other universities.  All students are encouraged to register to vote in Charlottesville, which is crucial because Virginia is a swing state.  The presidential election as well as the gubernatorial, Senate, and Congressional elections could be influenced greatly in either direction by student activism.  There is an empowering recognition that student votes really matter. 

Student political activity before the election will only continue to increase.  The heads of UDems and College Republicans have a lot planned in the next few weeks, including a possible debate between the two of them.  Whether you lean right or left, or even if you are more apathetic, Virginia is an exciting place to be.