Going into Super Tuesday, the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee remained close between Senator Barack Obama, the candidate of change, and Senator Hillary Clinton, the candidate of experience.
Pundits predicted that state primaries would generate unprecedented turnout among the 18-24 age demographic, as political fervor grew visibly on college campuses nationwide. But despite Clinton’s attempts to woo the youngest group of voters with tactics such as bringing her media-shy daughter on the road and discussing the rising cost of college tuition, Obama still received the majority of support from college-aged voters.
In a comparison between Harvard and Yale — the Law School alma maters of Obama and Clinton, respectively — do institutional connections sway the popular vote? Are undergraduates from these two schools more likely to vote for a particular candidate because of this association?
The answer is a resounding no.
For most students interviewed, the alma mater of a candidate is one of the last things they consider when picking who to support.
“I could honestly care less about where they went to college,” Francisco Vieyra ’09 said. “It’s about the issues and the personality of the candidates.”
Kevin Webb ’10 agrees. He thinks alums who were at Yale during Clinton’s time here might feel a sway of allegiance, but he does not think that students on campus today consider this an important aspect of the campaign.
For Webb, it was clear that, come Super Tuesday, the predominantly pro-Obama Yale campus would cast its vote for a graduate from that school in Cambridge.
“If students don’t have a problem voting for someone from our biggest rival, then I really don’t think this is an issue,” Webb said.
Simone Berkower ’09, the lone student interviewed who views Clinton’s affiliation to the University as an asset, is as much influenced by Clinton’s policy as she is by the fact that her mother was a classmate of Clinton’s during her days at Yale Law.
“I have been surprised by the overwhelming support for Obama at Yale,” she said. “I expected that our campus would have more allegiance to Clinton because of Yale Law.”
While Berkower plans on voting for Clinton in the Connecticut primary, other students say Obama’s message of hope is strong enough to break any would-be campus ties to fellow Yalie, Clinton.
Sharifa Love ’09 believes campus support for Obama stems mostly from the fresh perspective that he brings to the table.
“Obama and Clinton have similar policy,” she said. “I just feel like many people at Yale don’t want to see another Clinton in office.”
This anti-Clinton sentiment resonates throughout the student body at the Law School as well.
For some, such as Ceara Donnelley LAW ’09, support for Obama has “nothing to do with Hillary.” In fact, Donnelley worked for the Clintons in New York prior to her matriculation at Yale Law.
But like Love, Donnelley is inspired by Obama’s message of change and the fact that he will bring a new presence to the White House.
“I can vaguely remember Reagan in office, but mostly just Bush and Clinton,” she said.
Donnelly says that women on campuses nationwide are less likely to vote for Clinton for reasons based on gender.
“As for being a woman, I would love to see a woman in the White House,” Donnelly said. “But I don’t think this is as powerful an issue among educated young woman. Women of Hillary’s generation were bumped up against the gender road block. Younger woman can appreciate the issues, but it is not a sole reason for us.”
Donnelly believes that Obama’s support from this demographic stems from the substantive approach that he takes to his campaign message.
“Obama goes straight to the voters and tries to understand what matters to the younger demographic,” she said.
The majority of students interviewed at both Harvard and Yale reported that affiliation with the University does not influence undergraduate support for either candidate.
Jarret Zafran, a junior at Harvard and the president of the Harvard Democrats, said that his organization will not endorse a candidate in the primaries, but he attested to the strong support for Obama at Harvard Law School.
“The undergraduate population at Harvard is also pro-Obama,” Zafran said. “But not because he went to Harvard Law. Students are drawn to his message of hope and optimism.”
Nathaniel Lubin, a junior at Harvard and head of the Harvard for Obama group, feels the same way as Zafran.
“I don’t think the undergraduate support is tied to his law school,” Lubin said, “although a lot of the law school professors are involved with the campaign.”
Like many others, Lubin views Obama as someone with new ideas and a fresh perspective who is detached from current political agendas in Washington.
“Many people are turned off by the Clinton machine,” Lubin said.
The head of the student organization Harvard for Hillary could not be reached for comment.
Hayley Johnson ’10 dislikes the superficial method that many students take in determining political allegiance, although she does not view alumni association as a large issue in this regard.
“I know that people try to base things in policy,” Johnson said. “But it often comes down to bad vibes from Clinton, which is stupid because she has a lot of experience. Obama does too, but people discount Clinton too quickly.”
Johnson is still undecided as to whom she will vote for in the primary, although she said she ultimately wants to base her decision on a candidate’s demonstrated competence as opposed to experience.
Travis Marchman ’10, registrar of voters for Yale for Obama, says Yale students are too informed as voters to base candidacy decisions on alma maters. Others cite a university’s lack of broad political issues that all students rally behind; While the majority of a state’s population may consist of a single demographic that votes the same way, a university strives to achieve diversity within its student body. Other than isolated issues such as financial aid, there are few areas of policy about which all students feel the same way.
“The idea of a ‘Hometown Advantage’ may prove true in some circumstances, but not on Yale’s campus,” Webb said. “It works in a candidate’s home state because those constituents believe that a victory will result in increased funding, et cetera, for their state. This is not the case for a university.”
Obama defeated Clinton in the Connecticut Democratic primary by a margin of 51 percent over Clinton’s 47 percent.