Nearly two years ago, an outbreak of Obama fever swept across Stanford’s campus, permeating lecture halls, dorm rooms, dining halls and even bathrooms. Many students found out about the latest Obama rally or phone-banking event by reading the flyer on the bathroom stall.
“Barack the Vote” T-shirts, blue signs boasting the word “Change” and Obama-Biden ’08 pins often attached to backpacks flooded campus. Several rallies were held, with students chanting campaign slogans such as “O-bama, O-eight.” Stanford Students for Barack Obama and the Stanford Democrats were the cool kids that ran the school. And almost every weekend, students squeezed into cramped vans and made the long trek to the swing state of Nevada to canvas in either Reno or Las Vegas.
Now that the 2010 midterm elections are right around the corner and Obama fever has subsided, students are trying to maintain a high level of political activity at Stanford this fall.
“I think Stanford student activists and political types are definitely still in action and will make a strong effort in the fall,” said Sarahi Constantine ‘11, a student leader in the Obama campaign in 2008.
Constantine described herself as personally invested in a number of electoral contests, including California’s races for attorney general, governor and United States senator. She is also, through her work with Stanford Democrats and other national projects, following races in other states for congressional seats.
“There are definitely hardcore political activists on campus, myself included, who will be working hard this fall,” said Zev Karlin-Neumann ‘11, another active Obama supporter, an officer for the Stanford Democrats and member of Organizing for America.
“That said, in an off-year election, and without a candidate like President Obama on the ticket, it does become harder to mobilize busy Stanford students,” he added.
Political science professor Gary Segura does not find the challenge to mobilize voters during a midterm election surprising.
“Without presidential candidates, the election lacks the focal points that people tend to rally around,” Segura said. “I don’t think this year is any different.”
However, Greg Hirshman ‘11, vice president of the new Stanford Tea Party, predicts that this year will be different because of strong activism among conservatives.
“Now the liberals are a lot more disillusioned with Obama, and conservatives are ready to take back power,” Hirshman said.
He believes that the Stanford Tea Party will resonate with students because it focuses on fiscally conservative principles. Although most students hold liberal stances on social issues such as gay marriage and abortion, Hirshman believes many also hold fiscally conservative views. He hopes this appeal sets them apart from other conservative groups on campus, and will help them mobilize students in the upcoming election.
Hirshman’s focus on fiscal issues as opposed to social issues could be a winning strategy for promoting action if he can attrac students like Jimmy Threatt ’11.
Threatt, a registered Republican, said he is not involved in any conservative student groups on campus because although he largely subscribes to a theory of small government, which is strongly tied to the Republican Party, Republicans do not adhere to a theory of small government when it comes to social issues.
“The conservatives try to advocate small government concerning fiscal issues and then turn around and try to legislate morality,” Threatt said. “I guess I’m libertarian more than anything else.”
Threatt predicts that conservatives will be more active in 2010 than in 2008 because, similar to how the discontent with the Bush administration fueled enthusiasm for the Obama campaign, Republicans are now dissatisfied with Obama’s first two years in office.
“It is a referendum on Obama,” said Hirshman about the midterm elections.
Whether that is the case or not, energy levels could see a marked contrast in the fall. A spring poll conducted by Harvard’s Institute of Politics, a nonpartisan group, one of the most recent to address the issue, shows 18 to 29-year-old Republicans more politically energized than young Democrats and more inclined to vote in this fall’s elections. Forty-one percent of young Republicans said they plan to vote in November, compared with 35 percent of Democrats and 13 percent of Independents.
Although conservatives are energized and ready to vote their candidates into office, most students acknowledge that Stanford’s political activity will simply not live up to the excitement of the 2008 election and its eventual victor.
“He was one of the youngest and most vibrant candidates since JFK,” said Hirshman about President Obama.
“Many students were attracted to the campaign because it was the cool thing to do,” said Karlin-Neumann — and he’s hoping students still think it’s “cool” to support Obama’s party in the fall.