While the idea of long hours of work for no pay isn’t enticing for many individuals, University students who say they are driven by their faith in America’s political institutions to improve the country are readily volunteering in electoral politics.
Members of the University community said students play a pivotal role in shaping politics through both voting and actively participating in elections, and that student involvement will continue to be important in the upcoming 2012 presidential election.
Edie Goldenberg, professor of political science and public policy, said as campaigning for the 2012 presidential election begins, college students will prove to be instrumental in assisting the candidates in garnering support.
“Students are valuable as presidential campaign volunteers because they have time, energy and will work for free,” Goldenberg said.
According to Michael Heaney, assistant professor of organizational studies and political science, politicians often look toward college campuses for volunteers and voters because students are already in a central location and are often organized according to political beliefs.
“One reason why students are sought after is because there are some strategies that can be pursued to go after them, which is you can target them on particular campuses,” Heaney said. “You have student groups that have been organized around promoting one candidate or another.”
Heaney said he believes the major point of contention during the 2012 presidential campaign will be the economy, adding that the state of economic affairs leading up to election day will play a large role in determining voter sentiment toward incumbent United States President Barack Obama.
“If the economy really picks up steam and you see a lot of economic growth between now and the next summer, then you are going to see a strong likelihood of Obama getting re-elected,” Heaney said. “If you have any kind of increasing unemployment or any kind of downturn, then that provides a really strong opportunity for a Republican pick up.”
Amanda Caldwell, chair of the University’s chapter of the College Democrats, said she believes students volunteer for political campaigns because they are passionate about the issues.
“I volunteer because I believe in the power of the political system to build a more just, compassionate, and sustainable nation,” she said. “It is important to remember that our elected officials not only shape our future, but also reflect on who we are as a society.”
Anton Dirnberger, secretary of the University’s chapter of the College Republicans, echoed Caldwell’s sentiment that student volunteers donate their time out of a strong belief in the parties and campaigns rather than for a personal career boost.
“Campaign volunteers that come from the University of Michigan College Republicans are most assuredly not just looking for a resume booster,” Dirnberger said. “They understand the effect our government has on our everyday life and know how vital their participation is to seeing the results they want.”
Caldwell added that student volunteers who don’t wish to practice electoral politics as a career still see the effect that politics can have on their chosen career path.
“Many of our volunteers are, for example, pre-med or in a program for the environment who do not plan on going into politics, but volunteer because they support the Democratic Party on health care and environmental policy, respectively,” Caldwell said.
Dirnberger added that student volunteers are often valued for the unique skills they offer campaigns, particularly in technical areas such as social networking.
“Students are key to presidential campaigns because they are extremely motivated, educated individuals that can appeal to other younger voters,” Dirnberger said. “This is huge, especially on the grassroots level of campaigns.”
Despite the importance students have shown to have in elections, Goldenberg said it has been speculated there will be a decline in student participation and voting in the upcoming presidential election in comparison to the 2008 presidential elections.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see (turnout) lower than in ‘08 when Obama’s ‘change’ message generated a lot of excitement,” Goldenberg said.
However student volunteers with College Democrats and College Republicans said they are not expecting any decline in student participation for the upcoming election.
Both Dirnberger and Caldwell said they don’t believe Obama has not lost the youth appeal that made students favor him heavily in the 2008 election.
“We are not expecting to see a decline in either student participation as volunteers or voters,” Caldwell said. “Obama continues to energize students.”
Dirnberger added he thinks the actions of the Obama administration will lead to even more student involvement from the College Republicans.
“While others may be expecting a decline in student participation, the College Republicans at the University of Michigan are most definitely not,” Dirnberger said. “President Obama and the Democrats’ policies have been our most effective recruiting tools. Our membership has skyrocketed since 2008 and continues to grow. I know for certain that college Republicans are very anxious for 2012.”