The 2020 presidential election may be still a year and change away, but campaign season has already begun as Democratic candidates visit campuses across the country in a heated contest over the student vote. However, with the increasingly political atmosphere of late, there comes renewed feelings of political division and polarization, feelings that University of New Hampshire (UNH) students and community members believe have only risen since the 2016 election.
This division is being felt on a social level at UNH, according to the results of the recent Campus Climate Survey conducted by Rankin & Associates Consulting, which found 16 percent of UNH community members experiencing “exclusionary conduct” due to their political views.
“A lot of people are scared to affiliate themselves with [President Trump]…especially on this campus, you say you support Donald Trump, usually the people around you are just going to say ‘this kid isn’t educated,’” said junior political science major Alex Stern, the secretary for UNH Republicans and Vice Chairman for College Republicans of New Hampshire.
Stern describes himself as a “true Republican,” who holds the traditional Republican values such as a belief in 2nd amendment rights, strong national defense, small government and small businesses. Nevertheless, Stern freely associates with those to the left of the political spectrum and has attended events held by Democratic candidates in the past.
“Most of my friends are very left,” Stern said. “But I love having very serious conversations with them about politics, news, current events, or whatever.”
For many students, however, socializing with those outside of their political sphere is an issue of morality.
“I will avoid conservative views for most of the time I can. That’s not the kind of negatively I need in my life. If you’re homophobic and I’m [bisexual], like I don’t need to deal with it,” senior political science major Acadia Spear of UNH Democrats told The New Hampshire. “Political opinions are a choice and if you really believe in them then you should stick by them…I don’t think hating gay people is a political opinion. I think that’s just morally wrong, but if you interpret that as political then maybe people are being ostracized for their political views.”
When asked via email what his reaction to those who believe the president’s rhetoric and policies attacked their identity, Stern dismissed the notion.
“I do not necessarily agree with everything that [Trump] does,” he said. “However, I respect that he does say whatever he is really thinking. I do not think that the president is meaning to directly attack anyone’s identity, in fact [he] has said many times that he supports [minority groups].”
However, earlier this year the Trump Administration began considering rolling back “disparate impact” regulations, which would limit federal rules against discrimination in housing and education, according to The Washington Post. Rollbacks on civil rights for undocumented citizens and the expansion of “same-day deportation,” as reported by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, have already begun to have local effects. Zero UNH community members openly identified themselves as undocumented in the recent campus climate survey conducted by Rankin & Assocaites Consulting.
Executive Associate and Senior Research Associate Julie Del Giorno of Rankin & Associates Consulting noted that the company has seen a decrease in survey respondents openly identifying themselves as undocumented since the 2016 election.
Despite the increased social divide, UNH community members share a mutual frustration over the lack of cooperation in the federal government.
Associate professor of political science Susan Siggelakis believes that having a divided government is essential to maintain the checks and balances of government, “but, when [a divided government] prevents things that are really non-contentious from getting done…just for the sake of being obstructive, which is what I think we’re seeing now, I think is a bad thing.” Siggelakis attributes the issue to an increased polarization of the right and left, were fewer moderates exist to facilitate cooperation.
Nevertheless, amidst the division caused by political polarization the passion in which people are engaging with politics isn’t completely negative, according to second year master of agriculture science student and co-chair of the UNH Democratic Socialists William Hardesty-Dyck.
“We need people to believe in things,” he said. “That’s what politics should be about, people believing in fighting for a vision of society.”