MIT Students Discuss Major Issues in This Year’s Election

MIT may be a science and engineering school, but its students still care about presidential politics, if members of its political student groups are any indication.

The Tech asked the MIT College Republicans and MIT College Democrats, both members of the Association of Student Activities, about their plans for the coming election.

Richard A. Kraus G, of the MIT College Republicans, was the only member of that group to respond to a Tech inquiry. (Other members might have been away for the summer, he mentioned.)

The College Democrats directed The Tech to MIT for Obama, a student group which is not ASA-recognized, and is composed of the members of the surrounding community organized primarily through the Web site of Democratic Party Presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). The group’s leader, Catherine Havasi G, spoke to The Tech, as did members Misha Leybovich G and Robert H. Speer G.

McCain supporters quiet

MIT supporters of presumptive Republican Presidential nominee John McCain have not yet made any plans, Kraus said. “At the moment, I haven’t heard anything yet; I’m sure there will be.” Kraus continued, “Any plans like that probably won’t happen until after the summer.”

On a college campus, in notoriously liberal Massachusetts, Republican-minded students might feel uncomfortable expressing their viewpoints. Asked about how the College Republicans might help the voice of the right be heard on campus, Kraus said, “When the College Republicans have been more active … it does let people know there is a right-wing presence on campus, and that there are people who have right-wing views and express them, and I think it does make people more comfortable about them.”

Obama supporters’ goal: registration

MIT for Obama spends most of its energy registering voters — a smart maneuver among a traditionally Democratic demographic. “We want to get the most people on campus, everyone, registered to vote,” Havasi said.

“We also do visibility,” Havasi said. “We stand on Mass. Ave. with signs.” The group plans to continue these activities in the fall.

Students talk issues

Obama is the first black presidential candidate from a mainstream party. Will racism help the McCain campaign? “If I could control the minds of every person on Earth, I would certainly want everyone to vote for high-minded, sound reasons,” Kraus said.

Similarly, will ageism help Obama? “I think that, to some degree, I think a lot of people see age as an experience thing, so I think it helps in places as much as it hurts,” Havasi said.

“In the public mind, it’s not about experience, it’s about judgment,” Leybovich said. “As Obama was fond of saying, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld had ages of experience, and look where they got us.”

Three-quarters of Americans are dissatisfied with the current president; an Obama presidency would certainly present something different. But “change can always be for the worse, so we should not assume that just because people view a situation as bad, that change is automatically for the better,” Kraus said.

McCain political strategists have tried to distance him from the current administration, so that Americans unhappy with Bush will give McCain a chance. Kraus said this approach makes sense. “The argument would be: there are a lot more non-Bush supporters at this point than there are Bush supporters. The other argument is: where are the Bush supporters going to go? … I would say ultimately it is the right strategy,” he said.

Obama consistently polled poorly among white members of the working class during the primaries. But MIT for Obama thinks this shift is over. “All that stuff has basically resolved, and the bases have aligned behind Obama,” Speer said. “We’re seeing … that all these people are consolidating towards him,” Havasi said.

Students on both side said they thought this year’s election would be very close.

Sometimes being defined as a front-runner is dangerous in campaigns, as it becomes their race to lose. Asked whether they agree with this assessment, Speer said, “It seems like the media wants to favor the underdog, because they want it to be a close race as long as possible.” He continued, “We can’t be complacent, Obama is doing well in the polls right now, but we can’t just say that, okay, we don’t have to do anything.”

Since Speer was interviewed, further polls have shown the gap between Obama and McCain narrowing.