It’s about that time again — presidential bid submission time. In the past month, several prominent and some not-so-prominent political figures have announced their bids for presidency, hoping to get their names and agendas out to the public as early as possible.
With these announcements come the inevitable public reactions — immediate comparison, criticism and taking sides. This isn’t entirely a bad thing; it’s what normally happens in the earliest stages of presidential campaigns. That being said, it does introduce a few problems in the long run, especially for the Democratic party.
One detail that became excruciatingly clear during the 2016 election for the Democratic party was that candidates accumulated a very devoted following. The Bernie Sanders versus Hillary Clinton matchup showed that there were two strong and well-liked candidates for the Democrats, but when Hillary defeated Bernie and became the Democratic candidate, Bernie supporters were not so quick to change allegiances and jump on the Hillary wagon. What this presented was a party divided by their own candidates which ultimately hindered Hillary’s ability to unite the party and pull a win out of the election. This sort of side taking was present in the Republican party as well, as some people were hesitant to pledge their allegiance to Trump after his unlikely primary win, but for the most part they rallied around Trump.
Now I don’t want to make it seem like the loss in 2016 was entirely the fault of Bernie supporters. Had it been the other way around, with Bernie winning the primaries, I’m fairly sure that some Hillary supporters would have planted their feet in the ground and refused to join the Bernie movement. What this showed, though, was that the Democrats needed to work on uniting over the candidate elected by the party during the primary once the 2020 elections roll around.
Electing the best possible candidate, though, is the tricky part. When 17 candidates announce that they’re running for president, many people recoil at the number and just stick with the one person whose name they recognize most and whose stances they generally understand. But if one thing has changed since the last election amongst younger voters when it comes to choosing candidates to support, it is the amount of research they are doing to know everything there is to know about a candidate. Among my friends both here and back at home and from what I’ve observed in discussions on campus, it’s not enough to just generally know what a candidate supports. You now need to understand the candidate’s political background (or lack thereof), learn about their stances on hot topic items such as abortion and immigration and analyze their detailed plans on how to improve our country. Now more than ever are the histories of candidates being scrutinized with a fine tooth comb to see how they might handle issues in office.
As students, we hold a lot of power in the upcoming election. Candidates are beginning to target college-aged people in their campaigns, with the understanding that our demographic will take over the job market in the coming decade. And, for the most part, we are rising to the challenge. Our age demographic is beginning to recognize our duty and are beginning to want to effectively participate in elections and other governmental processes, and the best way to do that is to jump into political research on who exactly is in office now, and who is trying to get into office.
Perpetuating a culture where research into candidates is necessary for a fully informed decision doesn’t mean that first impression choices aren’t made. It actually means that they are often made quicker, as people already know quite a lot about the people who have announced they are running. In the coming months, though, front runners will be established and the lines dividing candidates from each other will become much clearer. It will be in those time that it is important to remember that for the Democrats, the unification of the party is more important than allegiance to any one candidate.
Contact Alex Durham at alex ‘at’ stanford.edu.