As candidates for the 2016 presidential election debate and campaign for the nominations in their respective parties, Brown students remain strong supporters of Democratic candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, according a poll conducted by The Herald last month.
About 45 percent of Brown undergraduates plan to vote for Sanders on election day next fall, whereas half as many students, about 22 percent, plan to vote for Clinton. The results “reflect Bernie Sanders’ strength among young voters,” wrote Richard Arenberg, adjunct lecturer in international and public affairs, in an email to The Herald.
In The Herald’s spring 2015 undergraduate poll, the majority of respondents — 58.5 percent — reported they have either somewhat or very liberal views on fiscal issues. Similarly, 83.9 percent of respondents reported to have somewhat or very liberal views on social issues.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio and businessman and reality television personality Donald Trump were favored by just over one percent of Brown undergraduates each, while 15.4 percent of students are undecided and 8.5 percent are either uninterested or ineligible to vote.
Arenberg wrote that 15 percent of undecided voters is an unsurprising percentage this far from the election, and some students said they agree that it is still too early to come to a definitive conclusion on whom they will support.
Students who might support Republican candidates appear to be less decided overall. Olivia Kozel ’19 and Brett Kahn ’19 both said the number of Republican candidates campaigning contributes to their uncertainty. There are only two major candidates on the Democratic side but four candidates on the Republican side who are polling at over 10 percent nationally, with many more still in the running.
Kahn said he looks forward to researching the Republican candidates further, adding that there is much to find out about them over the next year. “People want someone with experience, and one negative about Trump is that he is a businessman more than anything,” he said.
U.S. relations with Israel are also an important factor, Kahn said.
For Kozel, too, foreign relations will be a deciding issue. “We’re going into a terror-ridden era,” she said, referring to the recent ISIS attacks in Paris. “We need someone who is strong enough and ready to handle that.”
The Herald’s democratic poll results do not align with national numbers, which show Sanders trailing Clinton. According to a New York Times article published in November, the former secretary of state garnered 52 percent of Democratic voters whereas Sanders only had 33 percent.
Arun Varma ’16 and Abdullah Yousufi ’17 said Sanders’ platforms of free college education and increasing the minimum wage are primary reasons for his higher polling on college campuses. They said these issues have direct impacts on the 18- to 25- year-old age group, thus appealing to them and igniting their interests in the presidential race.
Lucas Benjamin ’18, a member of the group Brown University Students for Bernie, aligns with Sanders’ views on paid maternity leave and universal health care in addition to minimum wage and college costs. “He’s exciting a lot of people on the progressive wing of the Democratic party that have been dormant,” he said. “Even if he doesn’t win, he’s doing a huge service to our democracy in getting young people to pay attention. Young people can see the policies that benefit them, such as free college.”
Sanders supporters on campus also reference his honesty as a crucial characteristic of his campaign. Yousufi called Sanders a “trustworthy candidate,” while Benjamin said he believes Sanders genuinely “cares about creating change.”
For Elena Saltzman ’16, co-president of Brown Students for Hillary, it comes down to women’s health. The recent attacks on Planned Parenthood have brought women’s issues back to the frontline of issues presidential candidates must address, she said.
Saltzman said Clinton “is the only candidate prioritizing women’s health and “the only candidate I really trust.”
Jeff Salvadore ’17, president of Brown Democrats, said the group does not support a particular candidate for the Democratic nomination, but he believes Clinton has the necessary experience in foreign policy.
Bridget Duru ’19 said Clinton’s experience in foreign affairs is also very important. “She can offer strong American leadership,” Duru said.
Emma Dickson ’16, co-president of Brown Students for Hillary, said it is “important to note these are not new issues for her.” Clinton has spent her lifetime and career dedicated to the issues she would face as president, Dickson said.
Concerning the campaigns of the Democratic candidates, Arenberg wrote that it is “undeniable Hillary Clinton is doing well,” referring to her debate performance and poll standings. But Sanders’ campaign has “outperformed what most observers even thought was possible,” he wrote, adding that Sanders "has done Hillary Clinton a service by creating a Democratic race” and forcing “her to pay more attention to the progressive wing of the party.”
At 1.6 percent, Rubio polled higher than any other Republican candidate in The Herald’s poll. Austin Rose ’19 said he is still undecided, but Rubio’s moderate approach appeals to him. Rubio’s tax plan is realistic, he said, naming economic issues as one of his top concerns in the next presidential election.
Taylor Grenawalt ’17, president of Students for Rand at Brown and Rhode Island state coordinator for Students for Rand, wrote in an email to The Herald that Sen. Rand Paul “is the only candidate who has and will continue to support and advance economic freedom, as well as individual liberty.”
Grenawalt cited a variety of economic issues such as taxes and deficit spending as primary reasons for his support for Paul. “The more the debt grows, the bigger the burden will be on the younger generation to pay it off,” he wrote.
Socrates Zouboulakis ’17 said he also identifies with Paul’s political philosophy but said projections for who will win the nomination could alter whom he supports in the near future.
Concerning Republican campaigns, Arenberg wrote that Trump’s “obvious strength has perplexed and frustrated the Republican establishment.” Sen. Ted Cruz and Rubio are also doing well, with Cruz raising money and vying for southern victories in the primaries, Arenberg wrote, adding that Rubio is “outperforming other establishment candidates.”
Despite being a Brown alumni, Republican candidate and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal ’92 had no support on campus at the time the poll was taken — he had yet to drop out of the race in late October. Many students said this was not surprising.
“He’s disowned his alma mater,” Saltzman said. “He doesn’t talk about it. He doesn’t come back for events.”
“People aren’t even aware he’s a Brown alumni,” Salvadore said.
Zouboulakis also agreed his lack of campus support could have been due to lack of name recognition.
Brown’s overall liberal demographics also contribute to Jindal’s inability to receive votes on campus, Grenawalt wrote, adding that Jindal’s actions and record were inadequate for the presidency.
Overall, the level of discussion about the presidential race this early in the campaigns excites students on campus. “I don’t care if you’re on the left or the right,” Benjamin said. “It’s important to get involved.”