While some students spent the beginning of their fall semester getting re-acclimated to Yale, others spent their weekends traipsing around New England in an effort to register voters in advance of Tuesday’s election.
Though student engagement differs in scope and commitment level, Yalies nevertheless established themselves as presences in various local and national election efforts. Students on both ends of the political spectrum have actively participated in this election cycle, from coordinating phone banks to volunteering for voter registration drives.
Michelle Peng ’19, the elections coordinator for the Yale College Democrats, works on a variety of campaigns on the local and national scale. Peng’s responsibilities include advocating over the phone for Democratic candidates in swing states. She also coordinates weekend campus activities and trips to New Hampshire and Philadelphia to canvass for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton LAW ’73.
But while the national election is important to Peng, her heart lies mostly in local political engagement. Peng previously worked in her home state of Arkansas on the campaign of a state representative who defended immigrant rights and immigrant reform. But local politics, Peng noted, seem to get sidelined by the media in favor of national elections.
“I think it’s important for Yalies to get involved in states that aren’t immediately right here,” Peng said. “There’s a kind of tendency to dismiss states that are reliably red and forget about state-level stuff, and local-level stuff. I just wanted to widen Yalies’ perspectives.”
Delaney Herndon ’17, president of Yale Students for Hillary, has focused her efforts on national campaigns. Working on the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns for Barack Obama as well as the 2016 presidential primary and general campaigns for Clinton, Herndon helped organize events and opportunities for student engagement at Yale. From phone banks to canvasses to voter registration, Herndon oversaw communications for the organization to work with the Dems as well as Yale Students for Bernie Sanders.
Despite public criticism for Clinton, Herndon defended the former Secretary of State in an Oct. 7 op-ed for the News (Herndon: Forward with her) in which she laid out the reasons she feels Clinton is the most qualified presidential candidate.
“I want to vote for a candidate who would further health care reform, who is uniquely prepared for the position that she is running for and who has fought for children’s rights, women’s rights, civil rights and voting rights throughout her 40-year career in public service,” Herndon wrote. “I want to vote for a candidate who is humble enough to admit her mistakes, whether on Iraq, the email server or ‘the basket of deplorables’ remark, and who has learned how to respond to failure with hard work.”
Peng echoed this sentiment and maintained that Clinton remains the most qualified candidate, despite her flaws. Though Peng said Clinton runs on one of the most progressive platforms citizens have seen in some time, Peng added that she is excited see how, or if, her policies will be implemented in office.
Peng said she believes the Democratic party faces many challenges, but she emphasized that Clinton can provide the leadership necessary to guide the party in the right direction. Herndon agreed, and said the party is “moving toward a more democratic, transparent structure after backlash regarding superdelegates and the Democratic National Committee.”
Many members of the William F. Buckley Jr. Program, founded in 2010 to promote intellectual diversity at Yale, have worked in various political campaigns both in New Haven, nationwide and internationally.
Ben Mallet ’19 has worked on a number of political campaigns in the United Kingdom, contributing to a successful city council election in Kingston upon Thames and working as a pollster for former Prime Minister David Cameron’s general election campaign in 2015. Mallet also served as the chief of staff for a mayoral campaign in London and worked for the prime minister of Spain in a June 2016 election.
In the U.S., Mallet was involved with Paul Chandler’s ’14 New Haven campaign for Ward 1 alder in 2013. At the time, Chandler was the first Republican to run for the position since 1997.
Mollie Johnson ’18, who helped run Ugonna Eze’s ’16 Ward 1 alder campaign on a Republican ticket in 2015, said she was not enthusiastic about either presidential candidate, especially Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Johnson said that Eze’s campaign helped her understand the national election better, however, because she saw the frustration among voters supporting Trump mirrored in the mentality of not wanting a candidate co-opted by special interest groups that she believed made Eze’s campaign so strong. Johnson is a member of the Buckley Program.
Similarly, Mallet drew parallels between his experience with politics in the U.K. and the current U.S. presidential election. Mallet worried that, just as the unusually high turnout of “unlikely voters” — those who had not voted in the general election for a long time, and thus had not been accounted for in polling predictions — produced an unexpected result with Brexit, the same phenomenon could allow Trump to win.
While Mallet thinks Trump is “abhorrent” and believes exiting the European Union was the right choice for the U.K., he also thinks that Trump’s campaign taps into the same type of disenfranchised voters who felt left behind by globalization that led to the Brexit result. In the case of Trump in particular, he thinks it is important that the American establishment realizes that Trump’s popularity is symptomatic of real problems that will require serious attention after the current election is over.
Both the Yale College Republicans and the Yale College Democrats will host watch parties tonight as election results trickle in.