Though student political involvement has dropped off significantly since the 2008 presidential election, campus political activists are hoping the upcoming gubernatorial race will reignite student interest in politics, and campus groups are making plans to help rekindle the political spark.
With the race for the chance to govern one of the country’s most troubled states picking up steam this spring, USC’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, the Political Student Assembly, USC College Democrats and USC College Republicans all have plans to draw students back into the political realm.
Student involvement has been at a lull since San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom dropped out of the governor’s race. When Newsom’s campaign was still active, USC hosted a chapter of Students for Gavin Newsom. Now there is no visible support for any other specific candidate.
“Newsom was the only candidate whose campaign devoted a lot of attention and energy to campus organizing,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Unruh Institute. “My guess is that’s about to change.”
Shena Popat, director of the Political Student Assembly, said she anticipates students will become more active after the June primaries. She emphasized, however, that it is equally important for students to be involved in the primary elections.
“In order to increase student involvement, there may be informative, non-partisan events presenting the platforms of the candidates with regard to issues important to students,” Popat said.
Party-specific groups have also made plans to try to increase student involvement in politics this semester, including a debate between the USC College Democrats and the USC College Republicans leading up to the primaries.
USC College Democrats will attempt to draw in students by hosting a welcome back party, phone banking and sending a large group to the California Democratic Convention, which will be held in Los Angeles, Vice President Aaron Perman said.
USC College Republicans will host several speakers this semester, including Republican National Committee Chairman Shawn Steele. They will also hold the California College Republican Convention in April, according to Alexa Ekman, president of USC College Republicans.
Though the College Democrats will pick a specific candidate to endorse, College Republicans will not. Still, Ekman said involvement in the gubernatorial race is crucial, particularly for college students.
“Although USC is private and therefore unaffected by the state budget costs, students must pay attention to this election because the debt that California exhibits will be placed on our generation,” she said.
The Unruh Institute will be continuing the Students Talk Back lunch series, panel discussions co-hosted by the Daily Trojan, which give students a chance to discuss politics with experts.
The institute will also sponsor a viewing of the president’s State of the Union address and will host a daylong concert series partnership with USC’s School of Policy, Planning, and Development and the Los Angeles Times.
The poll series developed by the Unruh Institute and the Los Angeles Times will also continue as the gubernatorial race marches on. Schnur said there will be at least two polls released before the primary elections in June.
“This semester we plan on involving students in the planning of these polls and the analysis of the poll results,” Schnur said. “We want our students to know how the process works and get a better understanding of how public opinion is measured in a political campaign.”
Schnur said the key is to get involved now.
“For me and my generational colleagues, we only have a certain number of years left before it’s somebody else’s turn,” he said. “The young people who are smart enough and energetic enough to get involved early are the ones who are going to make the greatest impact.”