Republicans Rising on College Campuses

Former Obama supporters see solution to economic woes with conservatives.

September 23, 2010, 4:58 PM

Sept. 26, 2010— -- Two years ago Edward Dooley called himself a "Kennedy-worshiping, stereotypical Massachusetts liberal."

Today Dooley, a sophomore at George Washington University, in Washington D.C., is active in the College Republicans and prefers the label "conservative independent."

According to a Pew Research Center study, Dooley is not alone.

The study, which analyzed voter registration among young voters, said more 18- to 29-year-olds are identifying themselves as Republicans, while fewer are registering with the Democratic Party.

Dooley campaigned heavily for Barack Obama in the 2008 election. Now he spends his time volunteering for Tim Cahill, an independent candidate for Massachusetts governor running on a fiscally conservative platform, making calls to voters and performing social media tasks.

Dooley said his political ideology shifted over the past year. Turned off by what he calls Obama's "glossy ideals" and "lack of concrete policies," he said the economy has forced him to reconsider his politics.

"I'm not the leftist I once thought I was," Dooley said.

According to the study, two years ago young voters identified themselves more as Democrats than Republicans, 62 percent to 30 percent.

Now, a young voter is still more likely to be a Democrat, but the gap is closing. By the end of 2009, 54 percent were Democrats, while 40 percent were Republicans.

Scott Keeter, director of survey research for the Pew Research Center, said the economy is a major factor.

"This is a very classic pattern that you see in American history," Keeter said. "Every time the economy goes into a recession, the party in power is seriously hurt."

After the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat, defeated Herbert Hoover, a Republican, in the 1932 election.

Likewise, Democratic President Jimmy Carter's unsuccessful attempts to control inflation after the 1970s recession contributed to Ronald Reagan's victory in 1980.

Economy Important in Students' Political Choices

"You have this cycle where the economic circumstances take a toll on the party in power," Keeter said.

Rob Lockwood, the College Republican National Committee director for communications, agrees that the economy is the driving force behind the growing number of young people seeking the Republican Party.

According to Lockwood, youth unemployment is one example. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that youth unemployment reached 19.1 percent in July, the highest July rate recorded sincesuch statistics began being recorded in 1948.

"In a time where people really care about the economy, the Democrats have shown that they have done nothing to fix it," Lockwood said.

University of North Carolina College Republicans Chair Anthony Dent said his chapter has seen its membership "skyrocket." Last year, the organization had 100 dues-paying members. Now the club has 268.

"Students who have been apathetic before are now becoming more active," said Dent said, a junior. "Voting Republican is one thing. Seeking out the College Republicans, getting involved and advocating its policies is another."

College Republicans at Ohio University are also growing. Chair Bob Kosek said that the organization's first meeting attracted 95 new members, opposed to the 25 to 30 they usually see each fall.

"Hope and change doesn't put money in your account to buy textbooks or pay off your student loans," Kosek said. "It doesn't help you get a job after you graduate either, and I think a lot of students are realizing that now."

Many Students Still Liberal

However, some don't see conservatism as a rising trend on college campuses.

"There's still a lot of enthusiasm out there for the Democrats," said Ashlei Blue, traditional media director for College Democrats of America. "Maybe not as much as there was in 2008, but considering it's a midterm, not a presidential election year, we've still got a huge number of new registrations."

President of the College Democrats at the University of Delaware Bill Humphrey reports his membership is stable. Even if more students are joining the Republican Party, he said, the number of liberal students remains consistent.

Humphrey, a junior, believes the number of students identifying with the Republican Party slipped over the past eight years due to negative perceptions of President George W. Bush. Now, he adds, conservative students are "willing to be labeled Republican again."

In a surprise upset, conservative Christine O'Donnell won the Republican nomination for Joe Biden's U.S. Senate seat over the more moderate Mike Castle, a two-term governor and longtime Congressman.

For Dan Boselli, president of College Republicans at the University of Delaware, O'Donnell's win shows that voters, including students, are "voting for their own values as opposed to voting for electability."

In a heavily Democratic state, Boselli believes that O'Donnell "will have difficulty winning in November."

His club plans on endorsing O'Donnell, but currently has no plans to volunteer for or financially contribute to her campaign. The organization will put its time and effort toward state and local elections in which the Republican candidate has a "more viable chance of winning."

Humphrey also said new seekers of the Republican Party are not necessarily loyal patrons.

"Right now, the economy is putting a drag on the Democrats," Humphrey said. "But students are not flocking to the Republican Party. They are turning away from the Democrats, and the Republicans happen to be theonly alternative."

Republicans Following 'Obama Model'

Sterling Davenport, a University of Florida senior and self-described independent, said the amount of conservative students is stable, but those voters are simply becoming more vocal.

Davenport, a history major also studying political science, believes Republicans are now following what he calls the "Obama model," a method of campaigning centered on visibility of candidates and passion of supporters. He said the enthusiasm behind Obama's 2008 campaign was successful, and the Republicans are now trying to mimic it.

"Now the Republicans are realizing what the Democrats realized a long time ago," Davenport said. "There is strength in numbers, and now the Republicans on campus are really trying to band together to push theiragenda."

Davenport said young Republicans, who may have felt they were unable to reveal their political leanings in the 2008 election due to the fervor behind Obama's campaign, are now more vocal about their opinions.

"I don't think we're necessarily seeing an upswing in Republicanism," Davenport said. 'We're seeing an upswing in activism."

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