The first presidential caucus in the nation is still more than three months away, but Yale students have already begun to rally behind their preferred potential nominees.
Several student groups have cropped up on campus in support of specific campaigns. Some groups, like Yale Students for Hillary, in support of Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton LAW ’73, have formally registered with the University; others, like a group of students supporting former Hewlett-Packard CEO and Republican candidate Carly Fiorina, are more informal and have grown out of established groups like the Yale College Republicans. On both sides of the aisle, undergraduates have called voters, worked with candidates’ official campaigns and hosted debate watch parties to garner support for their choice candidates. In the coming weeks, students will even leave New Haven’s boundaries and travel to battleground states to support their campaign favorites.
“Politics of the few are something that young people are not looking for, and politics doesn’t have to be static,” said Emaline Kelso ’17, one of the founders of Yale Students for Bernie, a group of students that supports Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. “A lot of people are excited that things might not only change, but that they’ll change around things they care about.”
For some students, that change will come from traveling to swing states to rally grassroots support for their candidates of choice. Over fall break, Kelso said, several members of Yale Students for Bernie will make a trip up to New Hampshire to canvass door-to-door. The group has also hosted phone drives and worked in conjunction with the Connecticut branch of Sanders’ campaign.
Delaney Herndon ’17, co-president of Yale Students for Hillary, said that in addition to holding phone drives and a similar trip up to New Hampshire in the coming months, members of her organization will also go to Iowa to canvass before the state’s February caucus.
Students will be working closer to home as well. Yale College Republicans Vice President Michaela Cloutier ’18 said she will be gathering group members to canvass for Fiorina in New Haven.
Aside from canvassing, student groups have also hosted other events to build excitement for their candidates. In an event this past Tuesday hosted by the Yale College Democrats, Yale Students for Bernie and Yale Students for Hillary, supporters for both Clinton and Sanders gathered to watch the Democratic candidates square off in a debate moderated by Anderson Cooper ’89. While Clinton is currently the favorite for the Democratic Party’s nomination, Sanders has drawn significant support on college campuses across the nation, including Yale.
When asked why they support Sanders, students interviewed cited his transparent willingness to meet national concerns head-on. Scott Remer ’16, a member of Yale Students for Bernie, said Sanders’ reply to Clinton’s email controversy during the debate — he said the American people are “sick and tired” of hearing about the emails — was an example of his desire to focus instead on substantive policy issues. Sanders says what he actually believes and he is not afraid to disregard what would conventionally be regarded as good politics, Remer said.
“I think part of the reason why Bernie has garnered such a large gathering among college campuses is because he is speaking to the issues that we care about,” he said. “His call for making public universities tuition-free is something that resonates with a lot of people struggling with student debt.”
While Yale Students for Bernie was founded in May, immediately after Sanders formally launched his campaign for president, Yale Students for Hillary officially began in 2013 after Clinton’s visit to Yale, although she did not formally announce her candidacy until April 2015. Haley Adams ’16, founder and co-president of the group, said its ultimate goal was to ensure that Clinton — who ran for president in 2008 and was commonly acknowledged as a strong candidate for 2016 as well — would have a head start and be as well-prepared as possible to run. To this end, the group has focused on gathering voter contact information and signatures at large public events both on campus and off, she said.
“We were really excited about the fact she was coming [to Yale] and we wanted to take advantage of all the energy,” Adams said. “There was so much enthusiasm and we decided we would continue with it until she did officially announce [her candidacy].”
While students have garnered support for candidates on both sides of the aisle, it remains unclear whether the same support can be found at Yale for the two current Republican frontrunners: real-estate developer Donald Trump and neurosurgeon and former Yale Corporation member Ben Carson ’73. According to The Huffington Post, which is tracking 187 polls, Trump currently leads the Republican Party with 29.5 percent, followed closely by Carson at 20.7 percent. Yale College Republicans President Radu Simion ’17 said while there are no groups formally advocating for Trump within his organization, it remains to be seen if there are any official supporters on campus.
Both the Yale College Democrats and the Yale College Republicans have chosen not to officially endorse an individual candidate until after the 2016 presidential primaries.