Already outnumbered on Yale’s campus and in New Haven, conservative voices in the Elm City are struggling to challenge popular liberal views.
According to a survey conducted by the News in October, only 11.96 percent of Yale students categorized their political beliefs as “conservative” or “very conservative.” Only 275 of the survey’s 2,054 respondents said they generally support the Republican Party.
Figures for New Haven reveal an even larger gap between conservative and liberal presence. According to an October 2015 voter-registration document released by the Connecticut Secretary of State, New Haven has only 2,900 registered Republicans, compared to 53,133 Democrats. Moreover, all 30 of New Haven’s alders are Democrats.
This is not a new phenomenon: Ward 29 Alder Brian Wingate said during his six years as an alder, the Board of Alders has been completely Democratic. He said that the board’s policies reflect the political makeup of the board in that its members are “very liberal.” However, he added that he did not feel the lack of Republicans on the board was a big problem.
“It all depends on what we’re doing,” Wingate said. “I think sometimes it can be helpful to have conservative perspectives. It all depends on the issue.”
Similarly, Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa said she did not think the lack of Republicans on the Board of Alders hurt the city a great deal because all the alders had the “city’s best interest at heart.” She added that the city’s conservatives could voice their opinions at public board meetings if they want specific conservative perspectives taken into account.
This plurality of Democrats is by no means unique to municipal government. Within campus boundaries, where nearly 81 percent of students said they were going to vote for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton LAW ’73, three-quarters of survey respondents said they did not think Yale is a welcoming environment for conservative students to share their opinions on political issues.
“I never hide the fact that I’m conservative, but I do speak less forcefully than I would if I was talking with my family at home, or in an environment where things weren’t so skewed against me,” Claire Smith ’17 said.
Smith and several other conservatives on campus said they feel comfortable sharing their views amongst friends and within smaller, private circles, but that in public settings they restrain themselves. For example, Yale Political Union Tory Party member and self-described conservative Grant Richardson ’19 said he is wary of voicing his conservative opinions in venues such as sections, and even when among fellow conservatives, he is cautious.
“If we’re having lunch at Commons, we’ll look around to see who is within earshot,” Richardson said, referring to himself and other members of the Tory Party.
Richardson said he has found the dearth of conservatives within Yale’s faculty especially concerning, as it keeps students from hearing both sides of important issues. He added that he feels he does better on papers in which he adopts a more liberal tone, although he noted that the sample size on which he based that observation is small.
Unlike the alders, Yalies were split on the question of whether the campus would benefit from having more conservative voices. Richardson and Smith both said they believed the lack of conservative voices was detrimental and some liberals, such as Jordan Cozby ’20, agreed, citing a need to incorporate more conservative opinions into mainstream campus dialogue.
But Victoria Bentley ’17, who described herself as liberal, thought otherwise.
“I think that diverse perspectives are really important on a college campus, but I think that the University has struggled to support initiatives and viewpoints that are pushing actively for change,” Bentley said. “I think sometimes conservative speakers and viewpoints can offset that necessary movement forward.”
Michael Fitzgerald ’19, president of the Yale New Republicans, said that his group — which was formed by the four Yale College Republicans board members who resigned after the YCR endorsed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in August — has a relatively low rate of student involvement. Fitzgerald attributed this to a small population of conservatives on campus and limited opportunities for conservative activism in nearby areas.
As New Haven and Connecticut are both “fairly liberal” areas, the candidates supported by Democratic activist groups on campus are likely to win, whereas Republican candidates in the area are generally not elected, Fitzgerald said. He added that the Republican candidates in the state are generally not as “strong” as those in other states, such as Virginia or North Carolina, where elections are more competitive. As Connecticut and its surrounding states almost always vote for the Democratic presidential nominee, Fitzgerald said that Republican activist groups at Yale typically go to New Hampshire or Pennsylvania — swing states —instead to campaign.
“I think that it definitely hurts our membership because there’s such a long trip that has to be made in order to really get involved with Republican politics,” Fitzgerald said.