By WILLIAM BOFFA ’18
T he state of New Hampshire is one of the most politically important states during presidential elections, as it is the state which holds the first primary. As a result, Concord is a prized destination for presidential hopefuls of all political persuasions. This has provided many Concord residents, as well as many St. Paul’s students, to get an up close and personal look at the people who may soon be occupying the Oval Office.
On Thursday, September 17, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton visited Town Hall in Concord. In the audience were multiple SPS students, who were able to see her speak and later meet her thanks to organizational efforts by the Young Democrats. Clinton addressed many issues in her talk including government spending, care for the disabled and elderly, and the heroin crisis which is currently gripping the state of New Hampshire. “It was refreshing to see Mrs Clinton take questions from a community highly involved in politics with a minimum of evasive answers. Hearing her perspectives firsthand, as opposed to from traditional media outlets, also helped inform my personal opinions on who I would vote for in the primary,” said Brunston Poon ‘16, an active member of the St. Paul’s Young Democrats who attended the event. Clinton currently leads the Democratic polls with 40.5% support, followed by Independent Senator Bernie Sanders at 25.8%. However, the results of the New Hampshire primary are still impossible to call. Although Clinton has the endorsement of local party leaders such as Governor Maggie Hassan, Sanders – a progressive Senator with strongly left-leaning policies – has overtaken Clinton in recent New Hampshire polling. Sanders supporters see this as hope for the candidate to emerge as the dark horse of the Democratic race, pointing to the fact that Clinton had a lead over Obama early on in the 2008 race. Critics, however, doubt that Sanders’ policies can have a broad appeal and question his electability.
It is not just Democrats that are getting ready for the race; Republican students at St. Paul’s are also gearing up for the New Hampshire Primary. On October 4th, The Young Republicans hosted a phone bank for candidate Jeb Bush, allowing conservative students at St. Paul’s the opportunity to get involved in a campaign. “The Young Republicans of SPS seek to inform the next generation of voters through discussion and hands-on political research,” says Isabelle DiGiacomo ’16, who is one of the heads of the organization. “This year is especially important for the Young Republicans as the 2016 elections approach and the Republican candidate pool gets more and more competitive.”
The Republican candidate pool is indeed one of the largest and arguably most controversial in recent memory. Candidate Donald Trump, for instance, has emerged as the unexpected front-runner on the right. Trump holds 26% support in the Republican polls, making him the highest polling republican candidate in front of Ben Carson (18%), who has also seen massive popularity despite having little prior political experience. These two have both built up significant distance from those who were previously expected to hold much sway over the Republican Party, such as Jeb Bush, who only carries 8% of the current polls. Trump, who is a famous real estate developer and television personality out of New York, has had a meteoric rise which can be attributed in some part to his “non-politician” style. Trump has advertised himself as someone who will be honest with the people of the United States, and isn’t interested in putting on false smiles to address serious ideas. Trump has also very successfully placed himself into news headlines by making bold, and often highly controversial claims and attacks on other candidates and figures.
Despite his gung-ho style and surge in polls, it seems Trump’s popularity is slightly less potent at St. Paul’s. In a reader’s poll conducted by The Pelican, 23.46% of the 81 respondents put Trump as their favorite candidate. This figure places Trump in second behind Jeb Bush, who led SPS polling with 28.40%. Marco Rubio came in third, collecting 14.81% of the poll. Overall, the results suggested that as of now, establishment candidates like Bush and Rubio still held a stronghold among St. Paul’s students over more non-establishment candidates like Trump, Carson or Carly Fiorina.
Results for the Democratic Primary also showed a deviation from national results. While Hillary remains the front-runner in national Democratic polling, SPS students showed a strong preference for Bernie Sanders. In fact, while Sanders was at 52.34%, Hillary was only able to receive 33.64%, a much lower proportion than most national polling. This may be reflective of Sanders’ overall appeal to younger voters due to his forward-thinking and idealistic style.
Partisan clubs, however, are not the only student groups who are taking an active role this election cycle. Some students have taken a more bipartisan approach to the campaign. Annika Andersson ’16, who is a member of the Young Independents on SPS, states that primary season is evidence of the degree of polarization in the American political system. “Because we’re very adhered to the two party [system], politicians feel the need to go further left or further right,” explains Andersson.
Andersson goes on to say that the polarized climate of American politics poses significant challenges to politically independent students at SPS. “I think there are few opportunities for independent students [to get involved],” says Andersson. “But that’s more of a result of the lack of opportunities for independents in this country as a whole.” With over a year left until election day, it is still early to tell which way the vote will fall. However, what is certain is that SPS students will be involved on the campaign trail every step of the way.