Although a year remains before voters head to the polls again, the Yale College Democrats are getting ready for the 2012 presidential election.
The Dems, who have brought U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy and State Rep. William Tong to campus in recent weeks, are preparing for work on state and national elections in the coming year. While President Barack Obama’s national approval rating is approaching an all-time low — the latest Real Clear Politics average poll ratings found around 50 percent of the country disapprove of his presidency — Dems leaders say there is little indication that this trend holds true on campus, and they will instead focus their canvassing attentions to surrounding states.
Dems membership coordinator Josh Rubin ’14 cited the recent Ward 1 aldermanic election between Sarah Eidelson ’12 and Vinay Nayak ’14, which brought nearly 1,000 voters to the polls, setting a new record for turnout, as evidence of high political interest on campus.
“I think the very exciting aldermanic campaign, with a record turnout in Ward 1, showed that the enthusiasm gap has been overstated,” Rubin wrote in an email to the News Sunday afternoon, referring to predictions that students will care less about the upcoming election than they did about the one in 2008. “In some ways, the 2012 election will be more challenging than 2008, but it is just as important. Next fall, we’ll be fired up.”
Rubin said the Dems will continue to register students to vote over the next few months. The organization will also build an elections committee to coordinate the Dems’ efforts with other Yale groups, other schools and the Obama campaign.
Since Connecticut tends to vote for Democratic presidential candidates — as the state with the second-highest percentage of residents that self-identify as liberal — Nethercut said the Dems’ efforts will likely focus on nearby states. Rubin said the Dems will send students to New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, traditional battleground states, and will target “other competitive races nationwide” where the Dems can have the largest impact.
Amidst a flailing economy and an unemployment rate of 9 percent, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, Obama’s reelection prospects appear difficult. Polls have shown that some Democrats are unhappy with Washington D.C.’s polarization after Obama ran on a platform of bringing change to politics four years ago.
Dems campus and community coordinator Zak Newman ’13, who volunteered for the Obama campaign in 2008 and is president of the College Democrats of Connecticut, said Obama’s campaign promises were difficult to keep given political realities.
“When the president was elected I think people very much saw him as being ‘above politics,’ ” Newman said. “The realities of the last three years have made that approach impossible and he’s been much more in the trenches than I expected.”
Dems elections coordinator Sophie Nethercut ’14 said it is “no secret” that Capitol Hill is as polarized as it is. She added that, given the circumstances, Obama has done his best to “push forward progressive legislation” and to try to fulfill his campaign promises.
Rubin cited Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s statement that the Republican Party’s “number-one goal is making Obama a one-term president” as an example of the obstructionist attitude Obama has faced, and compared it to the president’s priority of “getting Americans back to work.”
“Is [Obama] a perfect president? No,” Nethercut said. “He has definitely fallen short of many people’s expectations, including mine at times. That said, I think he still has a vision for change and I plan to do my part to ensure that he sees a second term in 2012.”
Despite the prominence of the anti-inequality Occupy movement both nationally and in New Haven, Nethercut said she is unsure how the larger protest movement will affect the coming elections, particularly given the its lack of specific, well-defined policy initiatives. But Nethercut said the movement’s central complaints will “remain at the forefront of political debate” as the 2012 elections come closer.
“We’ll have to wait and see what impact the winter months will have on the movement and see what policy platform, if any, occupiers come out with as the movement grows and matures,” Newman said. “I’m sure they will continue to draw a lot of attention to opportunity inequalities in the U.S., which I think will have a tangible impact on the agenda in Washington.”
The 2012 elections will take place on Nov. 6, 2012.
CORRECTION: Nov. 28
A previous version of this article stated that the Dems are currently working with Occupy New Haven. In fact, the Dems are not affiliated with Occupy.