The full force of the American political machine is upon Pennsylvania after its emergence as a major battleground state for the Democratic primary season. One may have observed one or two people with a clipboard urging people to register to vote, if not an influx of campaigning on campus.
With a historic number of young people involving themselves in the political process this election cycle, it is no surprise to find an increase in political action around other Philadelphia universities as well.
“I think students are pretty active this time around compared to more apathetic at other times in the past,” said Romit Bhattacharya, a junior neuroscience and English double major at University of Pennsylvania.
One Sen. Barack Obama supporter, Miles Galbraith, who is working on the Illinois senator’s campaign on Drexel’s campus, said what he’s seen has been very encouraging.
“Students are dying to help out,” he said. “It’s been really good so far. People are active and seem excited.”
The excitement of this presidential election is inspiring renewed effort within political organizations around university campuses in the Philadelphia region. Penn College Republicans recently launched a new Web site, penncollegerepublicans.com, as part of its broader strategic communications campaign.
Communications Director of Penn College Republicans, sophomore Michael Tate, explained the importance of the new strategies.
“My goal is more communication,” Tate said. “More communication means more action. We’ll see when the new [school] year starts and we’re ahead of the curve. New students want to do new things. We have our stuff together, our priorities straight.”
Mobile messaging is just one of the new communication techniques the organization is implementing. Anyone can sign up on the Penn Republicans’ Web site for updates sent directly to their cell phones.
“We are the most innovative of any group of College Republicans in Philadelphia,” Tate said. “We don’t idle.”
That is not to say that the organization is satisfied with the level of political activity currently on its campus.
“Political events tend to be very popular here, yet Penn students are not as politically active as they should be. Not as politically active as, say, Berkeley or Columbia,” he said.
On April 15, Penn Republicans will also host, along with Penn College Democrats, a debate between the two organizations in the Penn bookstore.
The broader student population at Penn is interested and takes the organization seriously, Tate said.
“We may be Republican on campus, but many of the issues we stand for, people are interested in, and people are interested in hearing both sides,” he said. “Even on a campus like Penn, which is very liberal.”
Regardless of political affiliation, one common theme on Philadelphia campuses seems to be conversation.
“Everyone has an opinion one way or another,” Galbraith said. “If you’re wearing a button or pin people will come up to you no matter who you are, or who you support, and engage.”
Bhattacharya sees a similar atmosphere at Penn.
“There’s a lot of excitement more so than contention,” Bhattacharya said. “Most people recognize the importance of this election and realize that change needs to happen regardless of who it is.”
Students in the Philadelphia region have found many of the issues within the campaigns directly affect them just as much, if not more than the general American public.
“I think there’s a lot of concern with national issues such as healthcare and the war,” Bhattacharya said.
“No. 1 issue is economy,” Tate said. “A lot of my friends want to get jobs in the financial sector.”
The question that remains is whether or not the enthusiasm around the presidential campaigns will be sustained after the Democrats wrap up the Pennsylvania primaries on April 22. But many supporters have come to Pennsylvania from out of state to help with their candidate’s campaign.
“After Pennsylvania, the campaign moves on to the remaining primary states,” said Galbraith, a University of California at Santa Barbara alumnus from Colorado.
It will remain up to the campus chapters of respective political organizations to retain the momentum that an exciting primary season has created.
Kymberly Bays can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.