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Presidential politics in the 'Miami bubble'

By Emily Glaser
On October 30, 2012

With the election just around the corner, Miami University students have mixed opinions on the most important issues this election, from the economy to women's rights.

Miami students are traditionally conservative compared to other universities, according to past results of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP), a national survey given to incoming first-years. In 2011, the survey found that nearly 35 percent labeled their political leanings as "conservative" or "far right."

Comparatively, in other highly selective public universities, like the University of South Carolina and the College of William and Mary, 25 percent said they were "conservative" or "far right," according to CIRP.

The numbers are reflected in the membership of College Republicans and College Democrats; the College Republicans signed up 500 interested first-years at the beginning of this semester, while the College Democrats signed up approximately 150, according to presidents of the groups, Baylor Myers and Laura Kretz respectively.

Both organizations, however, reported increased membership and excitement this year.

"I think we are all very excited because it's a presidential election year," Kretz said. "The average student will only experience one presidential election, and this is that year for people."

Myers echoed the sentiment.

"Enthusiasm for College Republicans has reached a high point with Paul Ryan's nomination," Myers said.

In addition to reporting more conservative views than comparable schools, Miami students also report a higher income.

Bryan Marshall, professor of political science at Miami, thinks conservativeness and wealth statistics at Miami are linked.

"People who report more income tend to affiliate with the Republican party," Marshall said. "Traditionally, the Republican party has been viewed in terms of being more supportive of business and in terms of supporting folks that have upper economic status. The Democratic party is viewed as the party of the worker, and folks that aren't high up on a socioeconomic scale."

The CIRP survey found 20 percent of first-year Miami students reported an estimated family income of more than $250,000 compared to14 percent at other highly selective public universities. The median household income for Americans so far in 2012 is $50,054, according to the United States Census Bureau.

Senior Stephanie Babiarz said she is not surprised by the wealth statistic, in fact, she thought more Miami students would report their estimated parental income in the above $200,000 bracket.

"I honestly thought it would be a higher percentage than that," Babiarz said. "My own family's income is probably in the $200,000 or over bracket, and I don't consider myself one of the wealthiest kids here."

According to Andrea Bakker, assistant director of institutional research, not much has changed since the last presidential election in 2008.

"Miami students generally report a higher income than other highly selective public universities, which is our comparison group," she said. "Incoming Miami students do report more conservative views than our comparable groups; there has not really been fluctuation in terms of political attitudes."

While the political leaning data has not fluctuated much at Miami, since the 2008 CIRP survey, there is nearly a three percent drop in the number of Miami students who consider themselves "liberal" or "far left."

Marshall does not think the drop is significant, but noted differences between this election year and the 2008 election.

"The election in 2008 was historically unique for many reasons," Marshall said. "The way [Barack Obama] campaigned, going above partisanship, was a message that really resonated with students and young people."

According to the CIRP survey, politics is still an often discussed topic at Miami. In the survey, 37.2 percent of students said they discussed politics "frequently" while another 49.3 percent reported they discussed politics "occasionally."

Chris Berry, Miami graduate and former College Republicans President, said there was definitely excitement for President Obama on campus in 2008.

"The College Republicans have always had a strong presence at Miami, because Miami is traditionally more conservative," Berry said. "In 2008, it was a little more even [between the College Republicans and College Democrats]."

This election year, the novelty of the incumbent president has worn off for some Miami students.

Senior Patrick Wolande said he voted for President Obama in 2008, but will vote for Mitt Romney, though he aligns his views most closely with libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, in the upcoming election.

"There was excitement for Obama in 2008," Wolande said. "I believed his message of hope and change. I just haven't seen the results I thought I was going to."

Wolande said the economy is the most important issue for him, and he is fiscally conservative but socially liberal.

Wolande is not alone in his fiscally conservative and socially liberal views.

According to the CIRP survey, 58.2 percent of Miami students "agree strongly" or "agree somewhat" that abortion should remain legal. Just over half of students believe marijuana should be legalized. A majority of students, 71.4 percent believe same-sex marriage should be legalized. A majority of students, 53.1 percent, also believe global warming should be a federal priority, according to the CIRP.

The Affordable Care Act is not as popular with students, with 55.8 percent saying they disagreed with the statement, "a national health care plan is needed to cover everybody's medical costs."

Senior Matt Luedtke also believes green party candidate Jill Stein, most closely matches his beliefs.

"I would vote [for] Obama instead because he is a close second, and unlike Jill Stein, has an actual chance at winning the election," Luedtke said. "But I, like a lot of liberals, have become disenchanted with this administration since 2008."

For Luedtke, social issues like marriage equality, equal pay for women, and universal health care are the most important issues of this election, and he believes the president is better for those issues than Mitt Romney.

Social issues define the election for senior Dana Shanley as well, and she has already voted absentee for President Obama.

"Women's issues are huge for me," Shanley said. "Women are graduating college and entering the workplace at a higher percentage and higher level than men, why is there still that [pay] discrepancy?"

Senior Mike Woeste also voted absentee, but for Mitt Romney. Like Wolande, his defining issue is the economy.

"The reason I voted for Mitt Romney is because I believe he is a very strong executive who has the experience, know-how and proper administration that will put the economy back on track," Woeste said.

While Miami may seem partisan based on the CIRP data, 41.3 percent of incoming Miami first-years ranked themselves as middle-of-the-road, in 2011. The percentage was the same for comparable universities.

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