A Herald poll conducted in October found that 65.6 percent of respondents said they planned to vote for President Obama this Tuesday, while 16 percent of students reported that they did not plan to vote, and only 7.1 percent said they planned to support Republican candidate Mitt Romney. A majority of students – 62.6 percent – said they plan to vote and are registered in their home states. Only 10.6 percent of students reported planning to vote in Rhode Island.
“I’m not too surprised that we have strong liberal support on campus,” said Taylor Daily ’13, president of Brown Students for Obama. Daily said he would like to see even greater voter turnout for Obama, adding that students who hold more liberal views than Obama on social and economic issues may be disillusioned by the president’s inability to institute stronger liberal policies during his first term.
Michael Tesler, an assistant professor of political science who is teaching POLS 1120: “Campaigns and Elections” this semester, said this support for Obama matched up with his prediction that students would support Obama over Romney by a margin of at least four to one. “Brown would support whoever the Democrat is in a very strong fashion,” he said.
“Brown attracts a more liberal student body,” Tesler said, adding that young adults hold political beliefs that are statistically attributable to “socialization.” In his class of more than 200 students, not one student claimed to maintain political beliefs divergent from those of both of their parents when they were questioned earlier this semester, he said.
“When you’re 18 to 22, a lot of your political beliefs are simply informed by how you are raised,” Tesler added.
Sofia Fernandez Gold ’14, president of the Brown Democrats, said that student participation in her organization has increased this year and that more students are getting involved with the party compared to years past. She said she was surprised by the large turnouts they saw when they hosted phone banks or canvassing events for the party’s local and national candidates this semester.
“We obviously are a very liberal campus, and it’s clear that we have a lot of Democrats on campus,” Fernandez-Gold said.
Students on campus have historically shown large support for Democratic candidates. In 2008, 86 percent of the student body said they were in support of Barack Obama’s initial bid for the presidency, though the 2008 poll measured support and did not measure actual intent to vote, thus likely overstating the number of students who actually voted for Obama.
But there is still a small faction of support for the Republican Party on campus.
Brown is perceived as a very liberal campus, said Thomas March ’14, a member of the Brown Republicans. As a result, politically conservative students often feel pressured by their peers and do not publicly voice their support for Republican politicians, he said.
“I know many Republicans on campus, but they are hesitant to tell their fellow students,” March said. “Before coming here, I always heard Brown was a liberal school, but coming here and meeting the people, it seems the kids who are liberal just speak the most and speak the loudest.”
“They want to believe that Romney is the right choice, but they are hesitant to make that choice on a campus like this,” March said. “They just abstain.”
Poll results also showed that a greater percentage of female students - by a margin of 10 percent - support the president when compared to their male peers. Male students were also twice as likely as female students to support Romney’s campaign.
“The gender gap is particularly strong in American politics, so it makes sense that it would filter down to college students,” Tesler said. “Issues that may be important to young women – such as access to contraception or contraception being covered under Obamacare – could exacerbate the gender gap.”
In a national Gallup Poll conducted Oct. 1-21 surveying voter preference, 54 percent of women expressed support for Obama, compared to 43 percent of men. This gender gap in voter preference has persisted throughout the campaign, according to Gallup figures.
Fernanadez-Gold said many Brown students support candidates who they perceive will represent their social values, which may include “strong” positions on same-sex marriage and reproductive rights.
The majority of students polled reported that they are planning to vote, are registered in their home states and utilized the absentee ballot system this election cycle, while only 10.6 percent of the students who responded to the poll said they plan to vote in Rhode Island Tuesday.
“Pennsylvania has a closer race than Rhode Island for the president, and Rhode Island is more solidly blue,” said Max Kaplan ’15, who plans to vote in his home state of Pennsylvania. He added that he is more knowledgeable about his home state’s politics than those of Rhode Island.
Of the 285 voters the Brown Democrats helped register this semester during a voter registration initiative, 178 chose to register in Rhode Island, Fernandez Gold said.
“There’s an interest in voting in Rhode Island for a couple of reasons,” she said. “Mainly, its easy. For a lot of kids, it’s a question of time and flexibility.”
Of respondents who stated they will not vote, 15.1 percent indicated that they are not eligible to vote, and 5.5 percent said they do not plan to vote this election cycle.
Hannah Rose Schonwald ’13 said she is consciously choosing not to vote this year because she is “fed up” with the system.
“I’m from New York. Growing up in that atmosphere, I thought, ‘I’m a Democrat, I’ll always vote Democrat,’” she said. But more recently, she said she has attempted to break away from that mindset and approach politics from a more “moderate point of view.”
Schonwald said she was also disillusioned by the lack of balanced political dialogue on campus. “I think if there were more bipartisan discussion of the issues at hand and what is actually important at the federal level, I think I would have been more likely to come to a decision,” she said.
March said he thinks some Brown students will choose not to vote this year because “the last four years have shown that Obama has not fixed or improved anything, and they would feel bad reelecting him,” but they are also not willing to be associated with the Republican Party because of the negative sentiment on campus.
Tesler said the proportion of students who reported planning to vote is impressive, given the normal national rate of voter turnout for young adults. Less than half of eligible voters in the 18-24 age range generally vote in national presidential elections, according to census data.
Only days before the election, national polls show the two main candidates essentially tied. And while Tesler said Obama’s win four years ago cannot be tied to a certain group of voters because of the considerable margin between him and U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., this year’s close race means “all turnouts should be more important this time around.”
“Youth turnout may make the difference between who wins and who loses,” he added. “They very well might make the difference this time around.”
Written questionnaires were administered to 959 undergraduates October 17-18 in the lobby of J. Walter Wilson and the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center during the day and the Sciences Library at night. The poll has a 2.9 percent margin of error with 95 percent confidence. The margin of error is 4.4 percent for the subset of males and 3.9 percent for females.
Find results of previous polls at thebdh.org/poll.