As the nation begins to adjust to the new President Joe Biden administration, student political groups at the University of Michigan are hoping to continue the momentum gained during the fall semester, when many political organizations saw a surge in civic involvement during a fraught election season. 

During the fall semester, many political student organizations planned virtual events to engage with students and increase voter turnout as the COVID-19 pandemic made many typical Get Out The Vote efforts impossible. The city clerk’s satellite office in the University of Michigan Museum of Art also helped thousands of students register to vote ahead of the election.

LSA sophomore Julia Schettenhelm, communications director for the University’s chapter of College Democrats, wrote in an email to The Daily that during the height of election season, the group focused on phone banking for candidates throughout Michigan and invited local candidates to their weekly meetings. Schettenhelm said the organization also posted information about registering to vote on their social media pages in the absence of tabling sessions, typically held in Mason Hall.

After the 2020 election buzz, Schettenhelm said College Democrats are looking forward to what the new administration will accomplish in the next four years.

“We are very excited about the next four years of the Biden-Harris administration and are hopeful that they can accomplish their agenda,” Schettenhelm wrote.

Schettenhelm said hosting Zoom social events for members of College Democrats is key to maintaining participation among students post-election.

“Since all of our events and activities have been completely online for the past year, we have been implementing new ways to engage with our members,” Schettenhelm wrote. “We still have our weekly meetings and subcommittees, but have also had more social calls and events to help our members to feel more connected to one another even though we cannot meet in person.”

LSA sophomore Andrew Schaeffler, co-founder and campus organizer for the University’s chapter of Students for Biden, said his organization received bipartisan support for their cause prior to the election. These bipartisan discussions, Schaeffler said, helped bridge political divides on campus.

“On a college campus, there are some mindsets and some political views that are much more prominent than others,” Schaeffler said. “But making that space for there to be this discussion (is our goal). I think we’ve come to this point of … being able to bring in … disaffected conservatives to Students for Biden. I’d say we probably had at least 10 people that were, in their words, ‘proud Republicans’ but they couldn’t vote for Donald Trump. They didn’t see the current Republican Party being reflective of their values.”

During the Fall semester Schaeffler also co-founded FlipBlue, a student organization aiming to “flip” traditionally Republican-leaning states toward Democratic candidates, to facilitate discussions on both sides of the political spectrum and keep the momentum gained through his work with Students for Biden.

Other groups, like the University’s chapter of College Republicans, told The Daily they are working on gaining new members after witnessing a decline in membership last semester. LSA junior Ryan Fisher, current chairman of College Republicans, said membership has declined for a number of conservative clubs on campus.

“I think we’re seeing a membership decline this year … which, on one hand, you wouldn’t expect because of the election, but on the other (hand), pandemics have a certain way of … overshadowing everything else,” Fisher said.

Fisher said the pandemic has made it difficult to keep up morale within College Republicans, especially as the club is very social during in-person semesters. There is also an added challenge of recruiting for a Republican club at a largely-liberal university, Fisher said.

“At times, we’ve tried flyering,” Fisher said. “We find that’s a non-starter typically because people rip down our posters almost instantly if we even note that it is a Republican-affiliated poster.”

Fisher said he hopes College Republicans will be able to return to their roots in advocating for conservative policies without the influence of former President Donald Trump.

“Trump, for better (or) for worse, was a very polarizing figure,” Fisher said. “And I think that brought a lot of hate toward Republicans and our chapter in particular on campus … But with (Trump) gone, I think we’ll see a little less hostility toward us, which I think helps us to get across our mission … We tend to follow policy more so than we follow people. But it was often hard to even talk about, say, health care — which Republicans have been talking about for two decades or more — just because everything was overshadowed by the presence of former President Trump.”

Daily Staff Reporter Brooke Van Horne can be reached at brookevh@umich.edu.