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Exploring Carleton’s political climate

<ir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-97c4df5f-c435-428a-c94b-ff8280c1c08b">After more than two years of campaigning, primaries and debates, the presidential elections are now only a few weeks away, and political groups on campus are working out what they want to do for their final pre-election day work for this and other down-ballot elections.

“It’s go time and this election is going to be close and it’s going to be hard. I think we may not realize it. It’s been eight years since we’ve had a Republican in the oval office, and it’s tough not to get complacent especially when the Republican candidate is so outlandish. I think to the extent that people can have a sense of urgency about this it’s important to,” Miko Zeldes-Roth ’18, head of the Carls for Hillary club, said.

Zeldes-Roth explained that Carls for Hillary is tabling in Sayles, canvassing, phone banking, hosting debate-watching parties and leading discussions on election topics. The Carls for Hillary group has been coordinating many of their projects with the CarlDems, but while Carls for Hillary focuses mainly on Clinton’s campaign, the CarlDems cover all Democratic races, including the local ones. CarlDems is specifically focusing on Angie Craig’s campaign against Jason Lewis for U.S. Representative.

“I think in Minnesota it’s pretty much going to go blue, and while it would be cool to get larger margins, I think it’s going to be really apt to focus more on the local seats that have been going mostly to unqualified Republicans,” Zayn Saifullah ’17, one of the heads of CarlDems, said.

CarlDems hosts phone banking for Craig each Wednesday, conducts voter registration and leads door-knocking events, according to Becca Wiersma ’17, the other head of CarlDems. The Republican and conservative groups on campus have been less active in campaigning and none have, as of yet, officially endorsed Trump.

“Since the club was founded, we’ve never actively, as far as I know, endorsed any candidates.  The purpose of the club has been to provide a place where conservative views can be shared–a place specifically where conservative views will not just be thrown away or put aside immediately like they are in many instances on campus,” said Patton McClelland ’17, head of the Carleton Republicans.

Because the Carleton Republicans is affiliated with the National College Republicans committee, it cannot actively insult Trump, but it also does not have to endorse him. In addition to fostering discussions about conservative viewpoints, McClelland mentioned that the Carleton Republicans are working with Students for Liberty, a conservative-leaning student group, to bring congressional candidate John Lewis to campus.

Students for Liberty is a 501C3 non-profit, so it cannot have any party or candidate affiliations. “We generally just reflect the ideals of liberty. We’re not even aligned with the libertarian party,” said Rohan Mukherjee ’18, leader of the club. “However, the way I frame my club on this campus is very much to be an open discussion defining liberty and building policies and ideals based upon those assumptions.”

Northfield Initiative is a non-partisan website that provides students and the wider Northfield community with information about candidates and about how to register to vote, according to Nick Cohen ’18, one of the website creators.

“We are trying to avoid, as much as possible, anything that will have people look at us through a partisan lens because our mission and our objective is to give people the resources they need to feel comfortable and not to sway them one way or another on who to vote for, but really just encourage them to vote in the first place,” he said.

Cohen explained that most people on campus know about the national elections, but the Northfield Initiative wants to increase awareness about local elections so that people will vote in these elections and will make informed decisions about the candidates they choose.

“Since it is a climate that is very in tune with national politics, we can make a big splash, so to speak, in helping people understand what these local elections are about,” he said.

This lack of campaigning on the conservative side of campus corresponds to the minority population of students that identify as conservative. According to a 2015 survey from the Dean of Students office, upon entering Carleton around 18 percent of students identify as being far leftists,  about 58 percent as liberal, around 20 percent as middle of the road, three to four percent as conservative and less than one percent as far right. McClelland said that the conservative minority on campus is very noticeable.

“One of the most surprised times I’ve ever been in my life was during New Students Week my freshman year,” he said. “I remember we were in the Rec Center when they were asking all these types of people stand up, when they said everyone that identifies as conservative or Republican stand up and there were maybe five of us in my entire class, and I am even surprised that that many people stood up now looking at it now.”

Because there are so few conservatives on campus, McClelland said that it can be difficult to share conservative opinions.

“Overall the climate on campus is, it’s tough to be a conservative on campus,” he said.

Similarly, Mukherjee explained, “I think Carleton is generally a safe space for free speech, that you can express your views, at least most of the time. However, my concern is that that is changing, that we’re headed in the wrong direction.”

Similarly, Zeldes-Roth said, “I don’t think anyone should be demeaned for their political beliefs, but given the nature of Trump’s candidacy I can understand why people are perhaps less tolerant of his candidacy.”

Saifullah also touched on ways in which campus climate can be less open to conservative perspectives.

“There is a pretty healthy political climate at Carleton, but sometimes, social media can get kind of iffy, kind of unwelcoming for people,” he said. “I don’t think that we should be publically shaming members of the Carleton community for having an opposing viewpoint. I think strong disagreement is fine, but as a community, I think that just hurts us a whole.”

In addition to the campus being unwelcome to conservative ideas, some CarlDems expressed discomfort about expressing views that, while Democratic, were perceived as unpopular on campus.

“There was a really big momentum for Bernie, and I’ve had friends say they were uncomfortable saying they supported Hillary, which is strange on a Democratic campus,” Wiersma said in reference to the pre-primary campus climate last spring.

Saifullah commented, “I feel like sometimes, Carleton gets chalked up to be a really, really homogenous political community when its not. Even within the Democrats, I don’t think there is a strict party line that everyone adheres to. I don’t want to be afraid of having these conversations.”

McClelland expressed similar concerns as Saifullah. “I think it’s disappointing because the only way you can really learn from anybody in this world is to listen to different points of view. I mean I certainly am. Since coming here, I have become more socially liberal because I’ve been exposed to so many different points of view,” he said.

“I’m from South Carolina, which is very conservative. I was raised in a conservative household, and my dad is surprised about how my views have changed since coming here, but I’ve been forced to listen to other people’s views and think about them, and I’ve started to adopt some of them, as well.”

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