Students discuss how Pittsburgh presidential campaigns impacted their decisions
Donald Trump won the presidency despite the fact that most college-aged voters were strong proponents of Hillary Clinton. The morning after the conclusion of the tumultuous election, the country is largely in disbelief as to how this happened.It seemed that the number of swing states this year had significantly increased. Polls predicted who the likely winner would be, politicians rallied, and the media reported on the progress of the election, but did any of those factors truly affect student voters’ decisions? The Tartan interviewed a randomly selected group of nearly 100 Carnegie Mellon students and many agreed that these external factors did not really affect or inform their final decision.
Pennsylvania has been a key swing state for several previous elections. This year, however, Nate Silver, the founder and editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight dubbed it as a “tipping-point state,” meaning a Republican victory in Pennsylvania would propel the party to the White House (and ultimately, it did). But many Carnegie Mellon students sat anxiously in McConomy auditorium Tuesday night wishing for the exact opposite. How could a state that was visited by the Clintons, the Obamas, Tim Kaine, and countless other politicians still vote red? Pennsylvania, with its incredibly diverse income demographic, was a crucial victory for either party. Both sides poured countless dollars of campaign funding into targeted ads, propaganda, and rallies to claim victory. Yet, it seems it was all to no avail.
Trump personally visited Pittsburgh twice within the past year, while Clinton chose to speak at both Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. Further, the Clinton campaign brought in several high-profile politicians to advocate on her behalf. Amongst the students surveyed, however, most actually did not attend any of these events.
In fact, as consensus shows, students were likely to only attend a rally or event if they already were in favor of the person speaking. As Lena Vlahakis, a junior materials science and engineering major stated, “The rally was to see the candidate, but the internet was there to inform.” Roshan Sajjad, a junior mechanical engineering and physics double major, furthered, “You can be informed without going to a rally. A rally is going to be biased and it won’t accurately present information, and won’t convince me otherwise.”
Most students surveyed were already in favor of Clinton before they chose whether to attend a political event. Perhaps one of the few students to truly attend a live event for information was Victor Tavarez, a junior international relations and politics major, who attended a Trump rally to give the candidate a chance. However, he states “what I saw was pretty disappointing and [the supporters] received us with a lot of animosity.”
Most students also chose to register to vote in Pennsylvania instead of their home state, as they felt their votes mattered more here. Carnegie Mellon students come from a broad range of states across the country, many of which are already affiliated with particular parties. Students from New York, New Jersey, and California, states that tend to vote democratic, favored registering in Pittsburgh to give Clinton her much needed “blue wall” edge.
“I come from California so my vote doesn’t really matter there,” said Ben Snell, a senior art major. “I registered here in Pennsylvania and I felt so much more different and much more proud and important voting here.”
Participating in this election while living in a swing state has been an interesting experience for many Carnegie Mellon students, to say the least. Pennsylvania is not just home to many universities and college-educated youth, but also to countless blue-collar lower class workers. With such a wide scope, how could a single candidate appeal to every demographic?
Carnegie Mellon student Alex Hauschild has been passionate in attending Democratic National Committee (DNC) rallies, and has gone to hear Bernie Sanders, Michelle Obama, and Hillary Clinton. “I’ve been around,” he said, “ but it did not change my opinion because I was always going to vote democratic. This election is a lot like open heart surgery, would you rather have a doctor with a malpractice suit or the manager of Wendy’s?” which is a reference to a popular internet meme.
Few people went out of their way to hear or listen to an opposing candidate, because ultimately, the waiting in lines, security, and capacity of rallies tend to pose an inconvenience. Russell Hawkins, a junior electrical and computer engineering major, supported this sentiment by sharing “I watched what I wanted to watch.” Moreover, students confessed that one would have to feel pretty strongly about either candidate to subject themselves to the headaches of a political event. Henri Fitzmaurice, a first-year drama student with Students for Hillary, felt that the rallies did serve a purpose. “I work for the Clinton campaign, and I do think rallies have had an effect in the informing and attendance of college students. There’s always been massive overflow.”
As for the next election cycle, whether Pennsylvania will remain a key state remains up in the air. Trump invested what seems minimal personal effort into reaching out to local voters but won the state, while Clinton invested millions of dollars and dispatched notable politicians only to win a few counties. This tactic, perhaps, was not as effective in the 2016 election cycle.
Voters mostly admitted to having previously established decisions and identified rallies more as celebrity sightings than as informational events. In addition, first time voters wanted their votes to matter, or at least have more weight than in their respective home states. So while Pittsburgh area campaigning might not have swayed individuals’ decisions, it certainly did encourage more people to get out and vote.