With the 2014 midterm elections quickly approaching, political partisanship has made its way back to the forefront of the national stage. Though USC’s campus community may seem more interested in football than politics at times, the political fervor hasn’t been lost on students — particularly for those in the College Democrats and College Republicans.
As two of the oldest political organizations on campus, the USC College Democrats and the USC College Republicans have always played an integral role in political life at USC. Dating back to 1912 and 1986, respectively, College Democrats and College Republicans aim to serve as a home for politically inclined Trojans.
Despite not having a major presidential campaign cycle in the works this year to garner mass attention on campus, both organizations have taken advantage of the midterm elections to be more selective and diverse in their club’s interests.
“Students interested in midterm elections aren’t automatically driven by the candidates at the top of the ticket,” said Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics Executive Director Dan Schnur. “Sometimes students get more excited about a candidate running for a down ticket office or by a ballot initiative.”
And both the College Democrats and College Republicans have done exactly that. Last spring, the College Democrats voted to endorse Sandra Fluke, a democratic candidate for the California State Senate. If elected, Fluke will serve California’s new 26th district.
“We had a very heated debate,” College Democrats President Alec White said of the endorsement. “But we decided to endorse [Fluke].”
The College Democrats have also focused their organizing around the midterm elections, endorsing a total of 20 candidates including California State Senate candidate Ted Lieu, California State Senate candidate Jose Solorio and California State Assembly candidate Sharon Quirk-Silva.
Similarly, the College Republicans have endorsed a total of 12 midterm election candidates, including former state legislator and former campus legislator in residence Tony Strickland, congressional candidate Elan Carr and California gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari.
In addition to bringing speakers and candidates from local races to campus, White said he and the College Democrats have also been committed to providing networking and volunteering opportunities for student democrats. Though the College Republicans have also focused the bulk of their programming on the midterm elections, College Republicans President Jennifer Massey said that she hopes to change this once the midterm campaigns end.
“After the elections are over, we’re going to have Republicans come out who are musicians and actors and businessmen,” Massey said. “I like to have a variety of speakers so we can see that conservatives come from different walks of life — not just politics.”
Massey stressed the importance of highlighting the diversity within the Republican party.
“We are a big tent, and a lot of times we seem to be painted with one brush,” Massey said. “We have libertarians, we have conservatives, we have social liberals — we have every kind of political combination there is. But we get boxed in by other people’s narratives, and it’s really unfortunate because it’s hard to get your voice out there when you’re the minority group on campus.”
Though the university has long held a reputation as a politically conservative campus, Massey said she always perceived the campus to be much more liberal.
“The majority of the campus leans left, for sure,” Massey said. “I hear it everyday in my classes. Not just from students, but also from professors — it’s obvious.”
Despite the perceived campus political inclinations, however, Massey said most students don’t seem to be invested in politics.
“I really do think that most of the students are apathetic in general to politics,” Massey said. “At USC, everyone’s involved in so many things that you barely have time to do your grades, let alone other extracurricular activities.”
White echoed sentiments of student political apathy.
“An ideal campus would have a lot more activism in which everyone’s involved — both in domestic politics and campus politics,” White said. “These campus elections affect students. People care about having a better Leavey Library. People care about having a better Lyon Center. But, they don’t come out to vote.”
Though the Democrats and Republicans represent the two primary political parties on campus, White said politics at USC transcends the typical two-party binary.
“USC is a little different because I don’t think the Democrats and the Republicans are two main organizations for activism,” White said. “We kind of share that role with the Women’s Student Assembly, the Environmental Student Assembly and the Queer and Ally Student Assembly because they all advocate for a variety of specific issues.”
Though the College Democrats and College Republicans fall on opposite ends of the spectrum, hyper-partisanship doesn’t inhibit their ability to collaborate on campus. In fact, both organizations partner on a regular basis with the Unruh Institute of Politics. The Unruh Institute of Politics seeks to motivate students to become active in the world of politics, and holds a variety of programming with the College Democrats and College Republicans, including the biweekly Students Talk Back politics and public policy panel series.
Schnur said this collaboration is indicative of the Unruh Institute’s commitment to giving students a space to engage with their peers across the aisle.
“There’s plenty of opportunities both on campus and off for partisan political activity, but in our programing we try to create an environment where both sides can talk with each other and learn from each other,” Schnur said. “We’re not trying to rob them of their partisanship, but rather create opportunities for them to listen to another side instead of fighting with them.”