Campus leaders weigh in on election issues

Matt Erspamer discusses important election issues with the SGA president as well as leaders of local chapters of the College Republicans and Democrats

Central Michigan University Student Government Association President Justin Gawronski in his office at the Bovee University Center at Central Michigan University on Nov. 5, 2012.  (Brittni Hengesbach|

A Republican, a Democrat and an independent walk into a voting booth.  The first votes for Governor Mitt Romney, the second for President Barack Obama and the last one does something interesting.  Their choice is not peculiar because of who was marked on the ballot (Obama) but because a certain amount of suspense came before the decision.

Elections in America have a fixation on the middle, more specifically undecided voters and swing states.  Part of this mania resides on young college voters, who according to a 2008 post-election poll by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), turned out in droves to vote for then-senator Obama.

In more ways than one, neither Obama nor Romney can count on the youth vote in 2012.  However, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more decided or dedicated voter than a local president of the College Republicans or College Democrats, and at Central Michigan University things are no different.

Megan Gill, president of CMU’s College Republicans. (Courtesy Photo)

Megan Gill, president of the College Republicans at CMU, is wholeheartedly supporting Governor Romney on Nov. 6.  Alex Middlewood, the equivalent at the CMU College Democrats, is voting for President Obama.  Given that these organizations unanimously support candidates from their respective parties, this isn’t anything new.  The issues that are important to them, however, illustrate perhaps an even broader divide than party affiliation.

“One of the most important issues to me is women’s rights,” Middlewood, an Otisville junior, said.  “Not only do I believe Obama is the better candidate for this (issue), but I think he helps the middle class more.”

The most important issues from Gill’s perspective are largely economic.

“I’m looking at the economic climate as I prepare to graduate,” the Traverse City senior said, citing the more than 50 percent unemployment rate for recent college graduates.  “We definitely need policy changes, because Obama’s are not working.”

While both Gill and Middlewood believe the most important things to them don’t necessarily translate to all members of their political parties, they do base their stance on many of the different campaign issues in accordance with a party viewpoint, whether it be economic or social.

“Smaller government is the biggest focus of the Republican party,” Gill said.  “We favor less government control with both social and economic issues.”

Middlewood bases part of her stance on the role of government, but she cites examples from Obama’s first term track record rather than saying it explicitly.

“We’ve had 31 consecutive months of job growth,” she said.  “If Obama had let Detroit go bankrupt as Romney would’ve, the economy here in Michigan would be even worse.”

While Middlewood and Gill support their respective candidates almost across the board on various issues, other CMU student voters base their decision more selectively.  Student Government Association President Justin Gawronski, an independent voting in his first presidential election, said he is supporting Barack Obama because he favors the democratic stance on social issues.

“Despite considering myself an independent, I am also a gay man,” Gawronski, a Macomb junior, said.  “I have seen firsthand the consequences of state-sponsored discrimination and have spent my entire life battling for legal acceptance.  It is impossible for me not to hold this one ideal above others.”

All three of these campus leaders at CMU are basing their votes on a variety of different issues, and one of the only things they seem to have in common is that they are enrolled in the same four-year university during the election.  However, no matter how educated the 23 million 18 to 29-year-old youth voting bloc was, in 2008 they voted for Obama at a rate slightly above 60 percent according to CIRCLE’s poll.  That percentage isn’t expected to change during the 2012 election.  The difference will be in the number of people that will actually show up to cast a ballot.

Alex Middlewood (right), president of CMU’s College Democrats, pictured with Vice President Joe Biden. (Courtesy photo)

Harvard University’s latest political survey from mid-October reports that not only are fewer college-aged voters expected to turn out this election cycle, but the ones more likely to show up will vote for Governor Romney.  Instead of the 15 percent increase in youth voters measured in the 2008 election, the survey finds that the youth voting bloc may have its lowest turnout since the showdown between Richard Nixon and George McGovern in 1972.

While less than half of eligible young voters are expected to vote in 2012 and Romney supporters are 10 percent more likely to vote than Obama supporters, college-aged students still dramatically favor the incumbent.  Among the reasons listed in the Harvard poll were Romney’s choice of the controversial congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate and a distrust of them both to handle foreign policy issues.

Gill supports the former Massachusetts governor on foreign policy, though, especially with respect to Iran.

“We need to look at our foreign policy, especially in the Middle East.  I believe a nuclear-armed Iran is the biggest threat to our allies in that region,” she said.

Middlewood’s views are more typical of the results in the Harvard survey.  Social and economic issues weigh equally on her support of Obama as well as her distaste for Romney, but she doesn’t expect everyone else to vote in such a measured way.

“I don’t necessarily agree with voting (based) on one issue,” she said, “but I tell people to find an issue they are passionate about and then find a candidate who supports them.”