College Democrats, Republicans compete for voice amid polarizing election season

With students mailing in ballots and making plans to travel home on election day, two student-run organizations are encouraging their peers to vote for their party. 

Although they have different political views, the College Democrats and College Republicans take a similar approach to meet their goals. Both groups have around 20 active members that are working to mobilize the younger generations' votes on campus for their own party.

Cherie Strachan, a political science faculty member, said based on political science research, activities on college campuses can dramatically increase student voter registration and turnout. 

“Elected politicians pay the most attention to those who vote and who become part of the coalition in the electorate they need to mobilize in order to win elections,” Strachan said. 

Grand Rapids sophomore Olivia Ammerman is the president of College Republicans at CMU. The number of events held by the group this semester has decreased, she said. Events include door-knocking and call night events for state and federal elections.

Ammerman said call nights are their biggest contribution to their party, but it has been difficult to maintain traditions with COVID-19 precautions. 

Tecumseh senior Lance Wood is the president of College Democrats on campus. He said the main focus right now is to educate youth voters on progressive issues and candidates for state and federal races, with the goal of getting people to vote. 

Strachan said young people have expressed skepticism that voting “matters” and prefer participation in direct protests or other forms of activism. However, she said public policy is based on those who participate in voting. 

“If we can get as many students as possible to vote and make their voice heard then the people in charge have to listen at that point,” Wood said. “If we just sit back and let things go on, they’re not going to care as much.”

Wood said the group supports progressive policies with topics including LGBTQ rights, gun reform and issues concerning climate change. 

Ammerman said everyone in the group identifies as conservative, whether that means they are Republican or Libertarian. She said the goal is to engage with the community in relevant political events for the Republican party. She said their strategy focuses more on the ground fieldwork. 

“We really just want to connect with students and let them know that there is a conservative viewpoint on campus,” Ammerman said. “We may not be as loud as the other groups but we get a lot of people who find out about us and they’re like ‘Oh, I wish I would've known that this was a group sooner, I would have joined.’”

Wood said during the last four years polarizing politics have been a challenge.

“I think just trying to get people to listen and find that common ground isn't a thing that happens as much anymore,” Wood said. “I feel like it’s hard to sway people one way or the other, most people are set in stone and don’t want to have those conversations and we’ve kind of shied away from those and I think that’s a big issue.”