Deciding the Future of the Nation

Author: Scholastic Staff

Design by Adriana Rivera

Introduction by Rich Hidy

The millennial generation will decide the 2016 election.

The number of eligible millennial voters will outnumber baby boomers for the first time in American history in the upcoming national election cycle. This places the brunt of the electoral power directly into the ballots of Notre Dame students.  

The political climate of the United States is contentious, to say the least. Rhetoric throughout the early campaign activities has been harsh, as candidates from both parties have been critical of each other and their opposing party. This has created a scenario in which the stakes are higher with a vast and diverse field endorsing a variety of different positions.

The Democrats have occupied the White House for the past eight years. 2016 could be a change election. The past three presidential administrations — Clinton, Bush and Obama — have all included two terms and have each resulted in the opposing party assuming executive power following their end.

The GOP field includes 10 candidates who have received the requisite polling support to be included in three debates thus far. The field has been divided into the outsiders and the establishment.

The national polls have been groundbreaking, in that they’ve been led primarily by non-politicians.  Both retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson and real estate mogul Donald Trump have been at the forefront of Republican voter support, while more politically established candidates such as Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Ted Cruz and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush have been trailing behind.

On the Democratic side, the field is headlined by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was defeated by President Obama in the 2008 Democratic primaries, and Senator Bernie Sanders, an ideological outsider and self-proclaimed democratic socialist.

Scholastic’s purpose for this story is to investigate the political attitudes of the Notre Dame community. The attitudes of the Notre Dame community are not necessarily correlated with national sentiment. Through surveys and interviews, Scholastic has collected data that can help uncover the millennial generation’s political thought.

A year from now, this thought will translate into action on election day, when the future of the United States will be decided and a new face of the nation will be voted into office.

ND Student Survey Results by Rich Hidy

Scholastic conducted a 14-question survey to gain insight into students’ ideological and political preferences for the 2016 presidential election.
Scholastic’s survey data features over 300 total participants representing each undergraduate class year. These participants took an online survey distributed through Notre Dame’s undergraduate class and dorm Facebook groups.

The majority of participants are either juniors or seniors at 29 percent each, while freshmen constitute 23 percent of participants, and sophomores are 18 percent of the total survey population.

Fifty percent of the survey participants are from the Midwest region of the United States, while the least represented segment of the country is the South with 10 percent.

Although this survey is not scientific, the results may be indicative of the overall landscape and attitudes of the millennial voting population towards the upcoming election cycle. This data can be used to characterize the Notre Dame student population’s thoughts on the current political environment.

Notre Dame students are diverse in ideological preferences, as 38 percent of participants consider themselves conservative, 37 percent liberal and 25 percent independent. The student body would be split right down the middle in terms of voting Republican or Democrat if the election were held today.

Students were also conflicted on the overall favorability of the Obama administration. Fifty-one percent of students consider Obama’s presidency generally favorable. Despite this general favorability regarding Obama’s term, the survey results show that 59 percent of participants are not optimistic about the political future of the United States.

Fifty-seven percent of students consider themselves somewhat politically informed, and half of the participants read or watch political news coverage either two or three times per week, or daily. Student news consumption overwhelmingly comes from digital sources, represented by 86 percent, over newspapers and television news networks.

Students are anticipating voting in both primary and general elections. Sixty-three percent responded that they are likely to vote in the party primaries, while 94 percent say they are likely to vote in the general election. To the participants, the state of the economy is the most important issue in the election by 13 points, and the next highest issue — foreign policy — is the only other issue with double-digit support.

Unlike national polls, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina are the top three supported Republican candidates. Two of the most prominent frontrunners, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, received just 10 votes apiece. On the Democratic side, nearly 50 percent of respondents endorsed Bernie Sanders as the candidate that they would be most likely to vote for in a primary.

Opposing Viewpoints: Republican by Rich Hidy

In this day and age, writing about politics can be dangerous. America has rarely been more divided, and the rush to demonize has never been more pronounced. However, one of the virtues that makes America a great nation is the ability of all to freely speak their minds. It is only through free exchange of ideas that deeper truths are learned and progress can be made.

It is in that spirit that Scholastic engages opposing viewpoints on the contentious issue of modern day politics and that I write on behalf of one side in this ongoing debate. Yet, I remain eager to learn from those with other points of view. This is the American way. In that spirit, I shall begin this essay with a quote:

“The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”—Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan is considered by many to be one of the greatest presidents in the history of the United States.

Reagan believed wholeheartedly that the purpose of government is to sustain an environment capable of breeding success for all its citizens, without unnecessarily intervening in their daily lives. He understood that regulation was necessary for public safety and to prevent unethical business and social practices, but that individual liberties were to be protected above all else. He knew that when individuals surrender their freedom to chart their own destiny, their prosperity, happiness and sense of self worth soon follow. 

In 2016, we need a radical shift in the direction of this country. America is a nation riddled with problems. At home, our economy is not producing jobs rapidly or that pay well. Our national debt has more than doubled in the past decade. Millions of Americans sit on the sideline, unable to find work. The gap between rich and poor has never been greater. Our middle class is dwindling. Higher education is more expensive than ever, and regulation on business stimulates the international economy rather than our own. For the first time in our history, small businesses are actually losing jobs.

Abroad, we have buried our head in the sand, contributing to suffering by millions as global instability creeps ever closer to our own shores.

Meanwhile, the primary author of this predicament, namely our federal government, grows in size and scope. More of the same will not make things better.

Now is the time for an individual with conviction and a commitment to conservative principles to assume the office of president.

A new age of America can begin in 2016 with a commitment to our country’s tradition of balanced conservatism. Like so many Americans, I’m tired of unproductive regulation, of bureaucratic self-interest, of deception and of partisan dissension. We need change, and with a Republican majority in the House and new Speaker Paul Ryan committed to a fresh approach to solve issues, a thoughtful conservative in the White House can revive America. 

Say what you want about the president, but Barack Obama may very well be the most impressive political tactician of our time. Promises of hope and change were messages that resonated perfectly with Americans in 2008, following the Great Recession and two wars under George W. Bush.
In many ways, then, President Obama embodied the promise that is America, demonstrating that by working together we can indeed progress.

Respectfully, I submit that the policies of President Obama have been far less impressive. For example:

  • The Affordable Care Act promised universal health care coverage. “Obamacare,” however, will cost $1.8 trillion and still leave a projected 31 million people uninsured after a decade of implementation. At the same time, premiums continue to rise, and recent subscribers are already falling out of the program.
  • Over 46 million people remained in poverty in 2014. The national debt has increased by 70 percent under the current administration. Entitlements are higher than ever before, with a record number of Americans on some form of disability. The true “U-6” unemployment rate is above 10 percent. Interest rates are at artificially low levels, supporting the debt but penalizing savers and contributing to a stock market bubble that is yet to be reckoned with.  
  • A revisionist foreign policy has not only created more danger in the Middle East, but has also destabilized America’s alliances. The refusal to keep a token American presence in Iraq made possible the rise of ISIS. Our presence in Afghanistan continues until at least 2017. And we now have a binding agreement with Iran, even as they chant “Death To America” and promise to wipe Israel off the face of the earth.
  • Planned Parenthood continues to be fully funded by the federal government, despite moral and legal grievances and the fact that alternative organizations could be funded to provide vital healthcare services.

America doesn’t have to settle for this new status quo of scarcity, retreat, self doubt, governmental overreach and child-like dependence.

We need to stimulate the economy by investing in ourselves, not the government. Americans should be able to choose how they want to invest their hard earned income, which is why, for example, Ted Cruz’s flat tax of 10 percent on income and 16 percent on business is very appealing. We need the government to promote — or at least get out of the way of — job creation.

Let’s face it: As current college students, we know more than anyone that the job market today isn’t as healthy as the market that our parents enjoyed. More money surrounding Americans and the market through tax cuts and regulatory reduction will create a thriving supply-oriented economy with more opportunities for all citizens to participate in the job and consumer markets.

Foreign policy is vital to the domestic health of America, and we need a leader who can show the courage to fully express the interests of America to other leaders on the world stage. America will stay out of harm’s way by supporting a strong military, thereby keeping us out of conflict.

I’m not necessarily looking for Reagan 2.0. I am looking for someone who can persuade hearts and minds of both the electorate and elected officials to come together and produce a stronger, safer and more financially secure country. After all, we must do justice by the Founders, who paved the way for a sustainable democracy for the generations that would follow.

America is traditionally resilient. America is traditionally prosperous. But at the moment, America has been knocked down and is struggling to regain its balance.

Redemption begins in 2016, when change will come through the election of a conservative.

Students of Notre Dame, let’s get involved and help make it happen!

Opposing Viewpoints: Democrat by Hunter Kuffel

Let me start with maybe my most important point: Barack Obama is not running for president in 2016. He’s already won two elections, and I can’t vote for him, no matter how much I may or may not want to.

So the argument that I should vote for a Republican because Obama did a bad job just doesn’t hold up. It doesn’t matter nearly as much as Republicans would have you believe what kind of job he did.

I do, however, have a few lines to spare in this thing, so let’s talk about it. The Obama administration has added private sector jobs for 67 straight months. That’s never been done before, and in 2014, more jobs were added than in any year since 1999.

Let’s talk about what happened in some of those years since 1999. Under President Bush, the U.S. created 1.3 million total jobs and actually lost 463,000 private sector jobs. Democratic presidents have overseen four of the five most job-producing presidential terms. Republicans have presided over five of the six worst terms.

I hope my point has landed in the words above, but I should get back to discussing the future. A Democratic candidate would be best suited to take the helm in 2016, and here’s why:

You should vote Democrat because every adult full-time worker in this country deserves to earn a living wage, and a Democratic president would work to make that happen. A true living wage would mean more people with purchasing power and much fewer members of the working poor.

Wealth inequality is a huge issue in this country, and it’s absurd that the richest of us have so much while the poorest of us have so little. Notice that I say the poorest of us. If we truly wish to call this country the land of opportunity, we have to give the poor the tools they require to survive and ideally thrive.

I would venture a guess that a large portion of those reading this is Catholic, so allow me to speak to that a bit. Arguably the two most fundamental principles of Catholic social teaching are the dignity of the human person and the common good. Every human is stamped with the image of God and thus possesses dignity. Such dignity means that every person is deserving of fulfillment, and we are called to serve the common good, the social conditions that enable everyone to reach fulfillment.

This means that it’s a Catholic responsibility to make sure that every person has what they need to live a good life, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or what kind of neighborhood they were born into.

You, of course, don’t have to be Catholic to believe the things I just mentioned, nor do I intend to direct my message only to Catholics.

You should vote Democrat if you want easier student loan payments. Last year, both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz (and all but three Republican senators) voted against refinancing student loan debt since interest rates had lowered. Keep in mind that refinancing debt is commonplace and often even practiced by local governments.

You should vote Democrat if you want a country that’s freer for everyone, and not just those who can afford it.

You should vote Democrat because we desperately need to reform our prisons. Issues like felon disenfranchisement and mandatory minimum sentencing laws reveal huge racial disparities and undermine democracy. We can’t determine a sentence, a punishment that allegedly fits the crime, for someone and then keep punishing him or her when it’s been served.

It also can’t be ignored that felon disenfranchisement disproportionately affects racial minorities. During the 2012 election, more than one in five black men were denied the right to vote in Florida, Kentucky and Virginia due to felon disenfranchisement laws.

We’ve also seen two instances of Republican governors repealing laws or executive orders that make it easier for ex-offenders to regain voting rights. Rick Scott did it in Florida in 2011, and Terry Branstad did it in Iowa in 2011.  In the interest of fairness, Rand Paul has fought very publicly against felon disenfranchisement, but please don’t vote for Rand Paul.

You should vote Democrat if you are pro-life. The death penalty has been proven over and over again to not serve as an effective crime deterrent. It’s also been proven over and over again to be no cheaper than life without parole. It’s also the taking of a life — no ifs, ands or buts. There is absolutely no reason that the inmates on death row shouldn’t be commuted to life without parole.

Vote for a president who will work to make the death penalty explicitly unconstitutional (if you ask me, it already is).

You should vote Democrat because House Democrats haven’t voted 55 times to repeal a bill that’s provided 20 million people with affordable health care and will not wreak havoc on the job market.

That’s my pitch. Obviously there were many other issues on which I could’ve touched, but I hope I’ve convinced at least a few of you. We are a nation that faces many challenges, but we are also a nation that is endowed with immense potential. I promise you that the key to unleashing that potential is not tax cuts for the wealthy.

Vote Democrat. You won’t regret it.

Asking the Experts: Faculty Opinions on Campus by Tessa Bangs

“The people in large measure have serious questions about the way that our politics might be played and whether or not politics is the answer to the questions they face,” Professor Bob Schmuhl of the American studies and journalism departments says of the climate for the upcoming 2016 general election.

In an opinion presented across the board, professors attributed voting trends and the prominence of non-establishment candidates in large measure to the current culture of distrust and dissatisfaction with Washington.

Some of these same faculty experts, however, cautioned against thinking of this current time period as all that unusual. “There has long been a strain of anti-establishment, anti-system, anti-party candidates in the U.S.,” Professor David Campbell, chairman of the political science department, says. “Sometimes that’s manifested within the parties themselves; sometimes that produces a third party candidate.”

Cynicism and a general distaste of politics have come together this election cycle to produce a record number of candidates on the Republican Party’s side; the possibility, again, of the first female nominee of a major party on the part of the Democrats; a range of characters from a billionaire celebrity to a socialist candidate from Vermont; and countless other story-like instances.

While this creates a massive amount of uncertainty in the minds of the experts, its causes are not unexplainable. “Distaste for Washington politics is probably at its zenith; we’ve never liked politics as a country, but we’re more dissatisfied than we probably ever have been,” political science professor Geoffrey Layman says. “But we always should remember that Americans don’t like politics, they don’t like politicians … Americans tend not to think that it takes any particular specialized skill to do these political jobs.

Although the Iowa caucuses are fast approaching, there are still countless opportunities for series of causes and effects to completely disrupt party’s platforms before the nominees are solidified and the general election comes into the forefront of the nation’s thoughts.

And though certain professors would make minimal predictions regarding either parties-at-large or individual candidates, overwhelmingly, the sentiment was nearly always the same: you just have to wait and see.

The Onset of "Extreme Outsiders" and the Republican Party

“In many quarters, people are thinking that our politics are broken. And particularly on the Republican side, that opinion is reflected in the support that what I call ‘extreme outsiders’ might receive,” Schmuhl says. “It is remarkable that the traditional establishment candidates are doing so poorly.”

The Republican ballot at one point was 15 names strong, and “extreme outsiders” led the polls.

Conversely, many of the establishment candidates that experts and others may have originally expected to dominate have done poorly — exemplified most by Jeb Bush. Although Bush has not helped matters by noticeable gaffes in the public eye, other issues have contributed to his theoretical downfall as well.

“I think having the Bush name not only means that, well, it’s just sort of old and tired and you know speaks of political dynasty — which we don’t like in the United States — but he also represents a wing of the Republican Party that is not really in favor right now,” Layman says.

While the various other so-called “establishment candidates,” such as Chris Christie and John Kasich, continue to either remain at low numbers among the polls — numbers that Layman considers “unsustainable” — or are beginning to climb, like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, much of the public’s attention is on three major outsider candidates: Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina.

While most professors asked agree that Fiorina has had her time in the spotlight and will continue to drop, the support that Trump and Carson have generated appears to be quite real. Carson has established his bona fides amongst the Evangelical Christians, Campbell says; and Trump — well, that’s the great mystery. “Is Trump really in this to try to win the election or is he your classic vanity candidate? And it’s impossible to know,” he says.

Regardless of Trump’s intentions, it cannot be denied that, through his expertise on the workings of the media, he has truly changed the way this election cycle is progressing.

Through a combination of his inherent celebrity, his skills and reputation as a man of the media and his own personal finances, he has entered the American political sphere with a massive reception — and although he has recently dropped in polling numbers, he has not really faded since.

As Professor Christina Wolbrecht of the political science department says, “Things that would have killed any other candidate have not killed Donald Trump.” His remarkable staying power has persisted through outrageous comments and personal attacks on his fellow candidates.

With only two candidates dropping out thus far, this amalgam of personalities, plans and platforms promises to continue playing off one another in constant and extreme ways.

Looking at the Other Side

While the Democrats do not have the same large host of candidates or extreme personalities — they are now down to three, with Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley — they do have something the Republicans do not: an heir apparent.

“Hillary Clinton has been such an inevitability for so long for the Democrats — I mean, it seemed as if she was the inevitable nominee in 2008,” Layman says. “And so everybody has sort of known, in the back of their mind, ever since that nomination race, that Hillary would be the next nominee. And I think that’s discouraged a lot of potentially strong Democratic candidates from running against her.”

This general lack of a strong field, in stark contrast to the Republican race, proves one exception: the emergence of Bernie Sanders, whose strength has come as a surprise to many.

Campbell attests to the fact that although Sanders himself may be a bit of a surprising figure, what he is representing is not.

“It’s not surprising when you think of the faction of the party that he represents. It’s maybe a little surprising because we would not have thought going into this that Bernie Sanders was going to get as much traction, and I think even Bernie Sanders is a little surprised by it,” he says. “But there really is nobody else out there who is representing that wing of the party.” Campbell likens the concept of an older male candidate with a wealth of government experience running on a platform of public service — a concept overwhelmingly popular with youth — to John McCain’s candidacy in 2000.

Sanders’ emergence has forced Clinton more to the left than she might have originally hoped — a move perhaps pushed by the left wing of the Democratic Party’s dissatisfaction with both the Clinton and Obama administrations, as well as doubts of Clinton’s liberal credentials from her time as Secretary of State, Layman says.

“Going forward, what we’ll see is the conflict between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and there will be sharp elbows for the simple reason that the media thrive on a good contest and a good story,” Schmuhl says.

The contest on the Democratic side, although seemingly simple at first, most certainly is a contest. And the sheer lack of remarkability of it is fascinating to at least one member of the faculty. “We have not elected a female president or had a female nominee — a major party nominee, anyway — but somehow because Hillary Clinton has been a figure for literally the entire lifetime of today’s millenials: I mean you’ve never known a world where there wasn’t a Hillary Clinton on the front page of the newspapers,” Campbell says. “So it’s sort of ironic that, as historic as her candidacy is and would be if she won, she doesn’t seem to have gained that extra allure because we’ve been through this before; and Hillary is just sort of a fixture in American politics in a way that’s kind of hard to imagine — she’s been a figure in American politics now for 25 years.”

Looking at the Process Itself

“What we see in the primary process is a competition over who can best represent the party as its standard-bearer in the election,” Wolbrecht says, “and that often comes down to something of a competition between different parts of the party.” Whoever does win that nomination, however, is not actually coming into as rare of a polarized state as has been advertised.

“I think it’s important to remember that we’ve had cycles throughout American political history of polarization and then depolarization,” Layman says.

According to Layman, polarization generally declines when one party becomes strong enough to force the other to abandon its grounds. Layman, however, cannot see that happening in the near term.

“We’re sort of a 50/50 nation, and when you’re that close and Congress is just a few seats and when winning the presidency is just a few states, each party can continue to appeal to its base and continue to fight on the same ground that they’ve been fighting,” he says. “Right now, we’re kind of in this back-and-forth where both parties are just on the cusp of winning it all … and I don’t think there’s any real incentive to back off when you’re that close.” It is normal, therefore, that these parties appear to be so deeply polarized.

“I think what’s happening on the Democratic side gives us insight into the other process that we know happens: that long before the first voters in Iowa and New Hampshire register their preferences, elites within the political party — and that can be major fundraisers, that can be leaders of important parts of the party’s coalition: so labor union leaders, social conservative leaders, leaders of churches, business leaders, all sorts of different leaders — sort of vet the candidate,” Wolbrecht says.

The primaries are largely a competition of which candidates can appeal most to separate facets of the party’s bases, culminating in who ultimately can capture the most important forms of support. How that is determined is different based on the party.

While for the most part the Republicans advocate a winner-take-all system in their primaries and caucuses, the Democrats have required a proportional representation system in all of their states since 1972, Wolbrecht says.

The Youth Vote

“I think that young people today have grown up in an era where they’ve only known dysfunction in Washington,” Campbell says. Due to this, political experts view the millennial generation as being both inspiring and worrisome in different ways.

“What you find is millenials are increasingly directing their attention away from the political system and instead into other ways to change things,” he says. “They do want to see the world change: it’s not that they want to just hunker down and live their own little lives and not worry about the larger community or world around them.”

Campbell, however, was not alone in worrying what implications this might have on the future of public policy and voting in the country. “Political research has shown the trend of the millennial generation — younger people — not just being alienated against politics but turning to alternative means of political participation,” Layman says. “So doing politics in different ways besides voting that seem to be more clearly directed at particular goals that young people have and that don’t have to be filtered through two polarized parties who can’t seem to accomplish anything.”

And although voting always has something of a “life-cycle” effect, according to Layman, in that youth generally have low voting rates and ultimately come more into civic participation as they enter into communities and have their own families and homes, there is worry that this disinterest in voting amongst the millennial generation could be more of a generational effect, as opposed to a life-cycle pattern.

On Notre Dame’s campus, specifically, there are efforts to encourage civic participation: notably through a platform called ND Votes ’16, a joint venture of multiple groups across campus, led by a student task force and sponsored by the Center for Social Concerns and the Rooney Center for American Democracy. Further ventures on campus promise to come into being as the months dwindle until next November.

Future Predictions

The final question is this: What is going to happen? Unanimously, the answer is that it is nearly impossible to know.

Although the Iowa caucuses are fast approaching, there are still countless opportunities for series of causes and effects to disrupt party platforms before the nominees are solidified and the general election comes to the forefront of the nation’s thoughts.

And though certain professors would make minimal predictions, the sentiment was nearly always the same: you just have to wait and see.