The Political Climate at UW-Madison: Badgers for Barack?


By Roz Koff Campus Rep at University of Wisconsin-Madison Oct. 21, 2008 No matter where one goes on campus, the election is present.  Around every corner, in the lobbies of every single building and in daily conversation, the Madison community has turned into what seems like a single-minded political district.   Regardless of the course subject most academic lectures somehow relate back to the election.  Located on the school’s street corners, and inside building, tables are stationed to catch students who are not yet registered to vote. Voter registration rules unique within the state of Wisconsin, as there is no deadline to enroll.  As the only state with day-of voting, it is incredibly easy to register and participate in an election. Last year during the primaries, when the political culture was much less prominent on campus, the approximate 6,000 students that registered the day-of the election was extraordinary.  While all students greatly benefit from day-of registration, out-of-state students   who missed their home state’s absentee ballot deadline generally take advantage of Wisconsin’s lax rules. While Madison itself is an extremely liberal city, the majority of the state of Wisconsin is rather conservative.  Numerically, UW-Madison’s enormous student body can be a deciding influence to sway the state Students seems to be aware of their importance in the election.  “I couldn’t get it together for an absentee ballot,” explains a Maryland native Senior, “so I just showed up at the polls – all you need is a rent bill or something easy like that [as proof of residence] – and registered, and voted!” Particularly interesting about Madison is that the UW is one of a few state schools that are actually located in the state’s capital.  State Street – the main business area – is three-quarters of a mile long, with the state capital building at one end of it, and campus at the other.  The close proximity creates an extremely interesting dynamic of student participation in our state government.  Not only is UW-Madison the only school that has a student group that actively participates in the state governance through a “Shared Governance Committee,” but also students use this as an opportunity to become involved with national politics. Last year students were participants of three Barack Obama rallies, a Hillary Clinton rally, a Michelle Obama lecture and forum, and a Howard Dean rally.  This year, students have been bombarded with celebrities like Adam Brody and Joy Bryant trying to register students to vote, usually with the intention of voting for Barack Obama. There are two main clubs on campus, focused on the elections: The College Democrats, and the Federation of College Republicans.  While neither club focuses on specific issues, their presence is definitely noticed on campus. Various fundraising and networking events such as “Young & Powerful for Obama,” are such frequent occurrences on campus that students often become annoyed and overlook them.  “It just becomes background music,” explains Junior Ryan Katz, “and I feel bad for them…very few people stop at their booths or attend their events.  It is kind of just for their inner circle of political enthusiasts.” While politics may be discussed all around campus, there is definitely a lack of participation in these specialized groups.  Sophomore Joni Appelman remarks, “there is definitely a core group of people who care a lot [about the election] and talk about it all the time, but everyone else seems somewhat apathetic… Yea, they will show up on Election Day to vote but don’t particularly care to participate otherwise.”  Students see the importance of their vote, but don’t feel extremely motivated to get active in areas specifically around the election.  While UW-Madison is taking great strides in increasing youth participation in the vote, participation otherwise is somewhat limited.