Do students care about the election?

MIT students talk about why their peers should care about politics

5235 politics
Students prepare to watch the presidential debate on Wednesday night in the Stata Center during an event hosted by The Forum, MIT’s political discussion group, in collaboration with MIT College Democrats and MIT College Republicans. Members of The Forum led discussions before and after the debate.
Emily Kellison-Linn—The Tech

With just a month to go before the presidential election on November 6, MIT students are all talking politics. Or are they? In light of the first presidential debate, how do students feel about voting, elections, and politics in general this year?

On Wednesday night, students gathered in various places across campus to watch the first round of the presidential debate. The Forum, an MIT student group that facilitates discussions of political issues, sponsored one viewing event in the Stata Center. Before the debate, the organizers informally polled the attendees. Of the forty people there, a solid majority identified as being Obama supporters, while only two sided with Romney. When asked for what they were hoping to learn from the domestic policy-focused debate, common responses included finding out more details about Romney’s policies and changes Obama would make to his economic approach if reelected. Additionally, almost everyone in the room answered that they were registered and planning to vote. Students believed this high level of interest may have been due to the self-selecting nature of a group watching a political debate.

Why should MIT students care about politics?

“Freshmen come to MIT hoping to change the world, and to do that we need to understand what’s going on,” Naren P. Tallapragada ‘13 said, “Politics is the art of convincing people that your great idea is the one worth following.”

Indeed, many believe that MIT students should care about politics. According to Caroline B. Shinkle ’15, leader of the MIT College Republicans, “MIT students do care about politics. However, the rigor of the MIT experience makes it less likely for mass student activism on campus.”

“Even though politics may not always be at the top of the mind, MIT students in general are tuned into the key issues and are more than willing to share their opinions,” she said. Shinkle suggested that students should care because “Most students are focused on forging a successful career after MIT or graduate school. They know that without a vibrant economy their chances of success are severely diminished. It comes down to which candidate has the vision, the background, and the plan to create that kind of environment.”

While those in politically oriented clubs have a strong political opinions, what about the average student?

Rebecca Zhang ’15 pointed out, “The work we do is mostly science oriented, but policies are what gets it put into practice,” citing her interest in energy as an example.

Will Drevo ’13 said that participating in politics was important even if solely for the purpose of “keeping politics out of the way of innovation, not the other way around.”

While most people agreed there is a general interest in politics in the student body, Rishabh Kabra ’14 noted that it is less prevalent than at other elite universities. “I have a class at Harvard and they have political discussions pretty often. We’re not the type of environment where people go out of their way to talk about politics. Instead, we have a laid back awareness.” Kabra also noted that the student body seemed mostly liberal.

Abbey G. Bethel ’14 confirmed this, but added, “I don’t feel that the majority is overwhelming.”

In 2010, The Tech’s politics survey found that 48 percent of MIT students felt the Democratic Party best shared their views, while only 9 percent identified with Republicans.

For those who are planning to vote, the issue of where to register came up. Zhang registered to vote in Pennsylvania, reasoning, “Voting in Massachusetts won’t really affect anything because it will always vote for the Democrat, but Pennsylvania is a swing state.”

When asked about their efforts in registering MIT students, members of Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren’s campaign representatives on campus declined official comment on short notice, but they pointed out that until October 17, MIT students can still register to vote every day in Lobby 10 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. using their MIT address.