Third-party candidates more popular in classroom discussions

By Lance Mihm -

LIMA — It is a presidential election like none other before, and the disgruntlement among students is making it hard to gauge which way the young vote will go.

That is the opinion of several political science teachers at local universities in the Lima area, though the effect that will have on turnout on Nov. 8 may differ. One thing everyone seemed to agree on is this election is changing the dynamics of how political science classes are conducted.

Rob Alexander, who teaches both an introduction to American politics class and a more advanced campaigns and elections class at Ohio Northern University, said many students are discouraged in what is a first-time presidential election for most of them.

“They are looking at it as kind of a bummer for students electing a president for the first time,” Alexander said. “The frustration is deeper with the upper class.”

Alexander said the two candidates being offered are likely the least popular in a presidential election since polling has been done. This is causing for millennials to look at other options. Alexander said that classroom discussions are often a result of “giving in to what the students are bringing to the table.”

“There is a lot more flirtation with the third party candidates than any time since I began teaching in 1997,” Alexander said. “However, they are not particularly excited about them either. The students are more fervent and excitable than in the past concerning a presidential election, but they are also saddened by the discourse.”

Philip McMurry, who teaches political science at University of Northwestern Ohio, said about 1/6th of each class is dedicated to dealing with events and what is being discussed concerning the election. Because of the emotionally charged topics, he tries to guide the questions as much as possible.

“It generally goes all different directions,” McMurry said. “On one end of the spectrum, you have students who are very passionate about (Jill) Stein or (Gary) Johnson and they feel the two-party system is destroying the country. On the other end, some are just bored with the whole thing and they have either become jaded or they don’t recognize the role that they could be playing.”

McMurry added the Bernie Sanders effect could have an impact on the election. In classroom discussions, Sanders was a popular candidate.

“They feel the election was rigged in Hillary Clinton’s favor,” McMurry said.

Political science professor Bil Angel at Ohio State University-Lima said the election has brought forth many issues that are not normally a point of discussion during a presidential election in class. Among those have been media bias against Donald Trump in the first debate, questioning of how polls are taken and students not being impressed by either candidate.

“In the past, many students would view that the electoral voting system was tilted in favor of the two-party system,” Angel said. “Now, there is definitely more interest in third parties. They are seeing them as a real and viable option as opposed to choosing the lesser of two evils.”

All three signaled that partisanship seems to be decreased. “I saw a lot of John Kerry buttons when he ran,” Angel said. “You are not seeing that.”

Alexander said he felt the Clinton campaign had a much better ground game in connecting with voters. Among his students in the advanced class, he said the Republican-leaning students tend to be much more socially liberal, defining them as “Kasich” Republicans. He said they felt abandoned and frustrated with Trump’s nomination. He added that on the Democrat side, many of the students felt more energy with Sanders and that they felt they could not trust Clinton and viewed her as part of the political establishment.

“That is kind of interesting,” Alexander said, “because they weren’t politically engaged when she was First Lady or a New York Senator.”

Angel agreed, saying “Clinton is too tied to old-school politics in their opinion and is not appealing to them.”

Alexander indicated that he felt that Clinton’s poll numbers a few days before the election could affect turnout. He said if Clinton is well ahead, voter turnout would be lower because many would feel it wouldn’t make a difference to vote.

Angel said that voter registration has been very successful on campus and that students are paying close attention.

“I think the turnout will be very good,” Angel said.

By Lance Mihm

Reach Lance Mihm at 567-242-0409 or at Twitter@LanceMihm

Reach Lance Mihm at 567-242-0409 or at Twitter@LanceMihm

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