Democratic candidates are coming out of the woodwork for the 2020 General Election on Nov. 3. The messy, contentious scrum has energized Chapman’s political clubs to discuss policy initiatives and the future of their parties.
“Folks who are often feeling politically alienated…and who previously didn’t feel like they could be engaged in the electoral process are starting to feel like: ‘Oh, we can actually elect people into office who are representing our views and our values,’” said Alexis Sutterman, a senior political science major.
Most Republicans hope to re-elect President Donald Trump, while Democrats are split between electing a left-leaning candidate to appease younger, more progressive voters, or a moderate-leaning candidate to appeal to older ones. Many young Chapman Dems find themselves in an ideological dilemma for the upcoming California primary on March 3, 2020: Do they back the person that polls tell them has the best chance to beat incumbent Trump (that would be former Vice-President Joe Biden) or exercise their idealism and vote their conscience? If they insist on a more progressive candidate, will they be complicit guaranteeing four more years of Republican rule?
The Democratic frontrunners are predominantly white, a stark contrast to the diversity of the newly-elected House Democrats of the 2018 midterms. Race does not seem to be a key factor in 2020, even among young voters. Young people prioritize values going into the primary, but many are still unsure if they will support a nominee that does not align with their moral compass, which could damage the Democrats’ chances of taking back the presidency.
About 81.6 percent of Chapman students were registered to vote in 2016, according to a report by the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement. Only 57 percent of those students voted in that election, according to Chapman’s website, which is an increase from the past few elections.
About 31 percent of youth ages 18 to 29 voted in 2018 states the Center for Information and Research on Civil Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). Although presidential election years tend to have higher turnout rates, the midterm turnout is considered historic among young voters.
Youth turnout has increased since 2014 in the 34 states for which CIRCLE has data for, as of April 30, said Associate Researcher for CIRCLE Kristian Lundberg. “This is a testament to the increased level of engagement young people had in this election system,” Lundberg said.
Midterm turnout shows that young people are interested in politics, said CIRCLE’s Director of Impact Abby Kiesa. “There’s very little reason for people to be continuing to bring out this myth of young people’s apathy in politics,” Kiesa said.
The top issues for young voters vary, and politicians need to care about these differences in the priorities of the generation, Kiesa said.
Immigration, the economy and health care are some of the top issues for voters going into 2020, according to a March CNN survey. However, these issue may not line up with the concerns of young voters. The most recent data from the Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School suggests that a majority of young Americans care about immigration reforms that allow permanent citizenship for “Dreamers” and stricter gun control laws.
“If politicians want to reach out to young people, they actually have to talk to them,” Kiesa said. “It takes some work; they’re just like regular voters.”
It’s also a matter of fairness that young people’s voices are heard, said Kiesa. “The more young people to participate early in life, the more likely voting in the US increases, [which expands] the electorate as a result.”
Addressing climate change, reducing income inequality and lowering the cost of college tuition are the top platform priorities for senior history major Barsegh Everekyan, an active member of Chapman Democrats. Everekyan has yet to pick his favorite candidate, though Buttigieg has captured his interest, in part because he appears to “[care] about the young generation.”
Climate change and college tuition are important for Sutterman, who is the president of the Chapman Democrats. The 2020 election is expected to bring progressive issues into the political sphere, Sutterman said.
About 48 percent of Democrats surveyed in a USA Today-Suffolk University poll said they would rather nominate a candidate who can beat Donald Trump than a candidate who is in-line with their views.
Sutterman believes that some Democrats are an “anybody but Trump” voters. But that, she said, “is only the rhetoric of moderates or establishment Dems.”
Electing any Democratic president is more important than policy positions in 2020, said Everekyan.
But just focusing on defeating Trump is a “self-defeating strategy,” said Sutterman arguing that the election should be about “replacing the hateful policies that he represents.”
People are not inspired by oppositional rhetoric, she added.
Trump is a shoe-in and the country still leans conservative believes Secretary of Chapman Republicans Lauren Miller, who conceded that some Chapman Republicans would prefer another candidate.
The club thinks “a Republican, even if it’s not Trump, will end up in office,” said Miller, a senior philosophy and political science double major.
Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld is Trump’s only competitor as of May 15. The club is not united behind Trump, though they will fall into line should he get the nomination, Miller said.
Improving the economy, restricting immigration and eliminating affirmative action are the big issues Republicans need to focus on to win in 2020, Miller said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders has the best chance to defeat Trump, Sutterman said, because of his fundraising efforts and popularity in the polls. But Sen. Kamala Harris and Mayor Pete Buttigieg are gaining traction with young voters, she added.
Out of the 23 Democrats running as of May 15, Sanders is polling second nationally among Democrats and left-leaning Independents at 15 percent behind Biden’s 39 percent, according to an April CNN-SSRS poll. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is in third with eight percent, Buttigieg is next at seven percent and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke is at six percent.
Sutterman is skeptical of polls because they “tend to discount how young people are much more progressive.”
Sutterman was alarmed by recent sexual harassment allegations made against Biden, but his political ideology is her main focus of worry.
“Biden represents a lot of the centrist policies the Democrats have continuously used in the past. It just hasn’t worked and resonated with the American public,” said Sutterman. “A lot of people do like him because they don’t look at his voting record.”
Biden’s experience is valuable to senior political science and strategic and corporate communications major Madison Murphy, a registered Independent, but she questions if that makes him “more able to adapt to new experiences” or “entrenched in the broken political climate.” She has high hopes for Beto, but acknowledges her support could change depending on the primary debates.
“I appreciate [O’Rourke’s] experience in local government and serving constituents on a more personal basis,” Murphy said. “He has an ability to communicate his policies in an effective way that is not built upon party lines, and reflects ideals that support our world as a whole.”
If their chosen candidate does not receive the nomination, will they still vote for whoever is the party’s nominee?
Sutterman ducks that question, saying it’s too early and “people should be focused on voting for who they think is the best candidate.”
“Voting is important and a responsibility to do, but if you feel like your vote is only perpetuating a status quo that is oppressive, you’re under no obligation to vote,” Sutterman said.
Murphy’s support is somewhat candidate-dependent. “I just don’t want to throw away my vote and fragment the candidate pool, but I also wouldn’t not vote at all just because the person I aligned with isn’t a major candidate,” said Murphy. “It could be a person from any party so long as they have a reasonable chance of winning and they align with my values.”
Even Miller is willing to vote for a moderate Democrat, but the Democratic ticket leans “extremely left” and none of those candidates appeal to her now, she said.
The supposed “split” between the progressive and moderate Democrats may cause tension within the party as it did with Hillary Clinton’s nomination at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
“I actually really welcome the divide,” Sutterman said. “Having a lot of different opinions in our party is important, but also we shouldn’t unify for the sake of what’s called ‘abandoning our values.’”
“The ‘Dems in disarray’ cliche is overplayed. It’s hyperbolic because the party itself is diverse, so you’re going to have differences in political opinion,” Everekyan said.
Politicians running for re-election have an incumbency advantage, but three presidents within the last 50 years have lost their re-election efforts: Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush.
So, do Democrats have a shot?
Maybe, said Miller, but Congress’s obsession with the Mueller Report is hurting their chances.
“Lots of Democrats are not running on the Mueller Report,” said Sutterman. “They are aware that it’s very far from what people care about.”
Chapman Republicans “believe that the investigation will undo the action the Democrats put forward,” Miller said.
The 2020 Democratic field is apparently not the only thing expanding. The size of the Chapman Republicans doubled within the last year,according to Miller. She did not respond to follow-up texts asking for specific membership numbers.
Of the 138 members on the Chapman Democrats’ mailing list, about 10 students regularly attend meetings, reports Chapman Prowl.
For students outside these clubs, voting may not even be on the table at all.
Caitlyn McGuigan, a sophomore integrated educational studies major, is a registered Republican, but unsure if she is voting in 2020. “I do not always have a love for politics due to the backlash that can come with it,” McGuigan said.
The Chapman Dems are traveling to San Francisco for the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention on May 31, said Sutterman. Other than hosting their regular voter registration drive, the club wants to emphasize registering in Orange.
The Chapman Republicans hope to be more active the statewide club, and are looking to attend conferences over the summer.
As the clubs prepare for the upcoming showdown, politicians and voters from both sides are hoping the young people will gear up as well.
“Go fucking vote,” Everekyan said. “Don’t do it last minute. Get your family to come with you. Get your friends involved in the process. That’ll help build the habit.”