Disclaimer: Hannah Kahn is a podcast editor for the Tufts Daily. Conor Friedmann is an assistant news editor for the Tufts Daily. Neither Kahn nor Friedmann was not involved in the writing or editing of this article.
The 2020 race for president of the United States will not be easily ignored. Campaigns for the Democratic primary and the ramp up of Donald Trump’s campaign have taken over news television, social media and print journalism; as of Aug. 26, 21 individuals within the Democratic party have announced their candidacy, ranging from former Vice President Joe Biden to spiritual self-help author Marianne Williamson and former tech executive Andrew Yang. Eight of the Democratic candidates are current or former United States Senators, including Massachusetts’ own Elizabeth Warren and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders.
With the prevalence of these campaigns and the political engagement of the Tufts student body and faculty, there will be a considerable amount of action surrounding the 2020 election on the Tufts campus over the next three semesters.
To date, there have been two rounds of Democratic Party debates. Each debate was split into two nights as a result of the large number of candidates running for the Democratic nomination. On July 30 and 31, twenty candidates walked onstage to discuss issues with focuses on health care, the criminal justice system and police brutality — a topic that took center stage when Cory Booker’s opening remarks were interrupted by chants of “Fire Panteleo” aimed at Bill de Blasio, referring to the New York Police Department officer who killed Eric Garner five years ago, according to CBS. In addition, climate change and immigration were central in the debate discussions.
Throughout the election cycle, there may be as many as twelve debates for the Democratic Party nomination, Democratic National Committee president Tom Perez announced to reporters in December 2018.
“Perez announced late last year that there would be 12 DNC-sanctioned debates over a period of about a year — twice as many as the committee initially planned for in 2016. The committee also prioritized securing prime-time TV slots on weeknights after the DNC faced criticism for a sleepier schedule in 2016 that favored the front-runner Clinton and relegated two of the six debates to Saturdays,” Russell Berman wrote in an Atlantic article titled “The DNC isn’t apologizing for Its Debate Rules.”
The Tufts student body has a higher level of political engagement than the general population of the United States, Tufts Political Science Professor and Department Chair Deborah Schildkraut told the Daily in an email. This election thus will play a large role on campus in a way that may not be as obvious at other college campuses or in communities across the country.
“For many Americans, a lot of the Democratic candidates are still relatively unknown. Yet I’ll bet that many of my students know most of the candidates and could tell me how they differ from one another,” Schildkraut said.
In addition, Schildkraut spoke to the proximity of New Hampshire which, because of its early primary, is a significant state for all political candidates. According to FiveThirtyEight, the primary in New Hampshire will be held on Feb. 11, 2020.
“We are quite close to New Hampshire, which brings many easy opportunities to get involved. So I suspect that our students will be very engaged in the primaries as they unfold,” Schildkraut said.
Tufts Democrats President Conor Friedmann said that one of the group’s first initiatives of the semester will be sending Tufts students to the New Hampshire Democratic State Convention.
“I think that most, if not all, of the presidential candidates are going to be there so we are going to be running a trip up through Tufts Dems, and we will be sending out a sign-up sheet shortly,” Friedmann, a senior, said.
According to the New Hampshire Democratic National Convention website, the event will take place in the SNHU arena in Manchester, New Hampshire. The website confirms Friedmann’s statement that all Democratic candidates for president will be in attendance.
“We are working with different campaigns to get the transportation provided for us and if not … it will be provided in our [the Tufts Democrats’] transportation budget for the club so the transportation will be provided regardless,” Friedmann said.
Student groups have already emerged with a singular focus on one candidate, including Tufts for Warren and Tufts for Harris.
The Daily spoke with Tufts for Warren co-leaders first-year Amanda Westlake and senior Hannah Kahn about their goals for the semester.
“Our group is very much in the beginning phases. This summer, I worked with the Warren campaign in New Hampshire which was a very cool experience and there are students all over the country who are starting campus for Warren chapters all over the country,” Westlake said. “We are trying to engage students and get the word out about her policies and what she stands for.”
According to Westlake, Tufts for Warren plans on having a debate watch party for the coming rounds of Democratic debates.
The Daily also spoke with Matthew Tolbert, president of JumboVote, which, according to its webpage is a “university-wide initiative to boost political learning, engagement, and voting in that year’s presidential election.”
A pillar of JumboVote‘s on-campus work is that voter engagement begins with voter registration. For this election cycle, Tolbert says, JumboVote is focused on working with different communities on campus, moving beyond traditional political clubs and campaign partnerships to engage as many students as possible.
“When thinking about a presidential primary, it’s important to think about who is engaged in that process. It’s safe to say that those who are invested in this primary process will turn out to vote for their favorite candidate. We are more interested in asking, who isn’t engaged in this process and why?” Tolbert told the Daily in an email.
“We hope that the many political groups on campus engage their members throughout the primary and general election season, and we are ready to support and work with these groups in helping their members cast their ballots and expand civic engagement opportunities to those who cannot vote,” Tolbert said.
He added that JumboVote will be collaborating with the FIRST Center, the Group of Six and the School of Engineering to promote voter engagement.
One factor in the voting conscience of Tufts students is their common age. Youth is a large factor in how people vote and which issues are important to an individual. In addition, younger voters often find themselves in higher levels of contact with social media, which is covered in campaigns and many perspectives.
“Age may prove to be a significant dividing line in the Democratic primary. Biden is doing particularly well with older potential primary voters. Sanders is doing particularly well with younger potential primary voters. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Sanders will be the top choice for Dem-leaning Tufts students,” Schildkraut said.
In addition, the 2020 election is predicted to see the highest voter turnout in the century, according to the New York Times’ TheUpshot. Tolbert noted a prospective uptick in youth voter turnout.
“If 2018 is any indication, we can expect to see higher turnout in the 2020 general election. The issues candidates around the country are running on reflect the changing dynamics of the electorate,” he said. “Student loan debt, gun violence prevention, and climate change are just a few of the issues that candidates are running on to earn the youth vote.”
Westlake and Kahn emphasized the importance of Warren’s student debt loan policy as one of the key issues that is affecting students across the nation and on Tufts campus.
Both Kahn and Friedmann spoke on their goals of collaborating with each other during the following semesters in reaching as many different people and groups on campus, as well as in the surrounding areas.
“The Tufts Dems want to work with those clubs and one of our biggest goals for this semester is to bring maybe a club that is just for Warren or just for Kamala, and we want to bring them together for discussion with the Tufts Dems as well and work closely with them throughout the semester,” Friedmann said.
Kahn has reached out to the Tufts Democrats for collaboration this semester and also looks forward to working with other student groups on campus to spread the word about Warren and her electability.
“I just want to make clear because I have talked to a lot of people that say, ‘I like Warren but I don’t know if she is my candidate,’ and I would still encourage those people to come to our meetings and our events and learn more about her… It does not mean that you have to be dead set on her in order to participate,” Kahn said.
Tufts is sure to see further political action, conversation and engagement over the following semesters as the 2020 presidential election continues to near and campaigns ramp up.