The 2016 election: Isolating the political mindset of SDSU

IAN LACK Reporter

South Dakota State students must choose a political identity when heading into the voting booth as the November presidential election draws closer.

An array of factors contribute to a final choice for president, but one choice that typically comes first for students is the decision of a party affiliation. But another question also exists: do students feel comfortable voicing their decision in front of peers?

Claire Deuter, president of College Democrats, feels comfortable voicing her political opinion with her peers, even those who disagree with her.

“Even if I am the minority in the room with my political view, I’m still comfortable sharing it because I know campus is meant to be an inclusive place, and we should be able to learn from everyone else,” Deuter said. “I think some people can be nervous about sharing ideas when they’re the minority, but that’s just something that takes practice for everyone.”

South Dakota has only voted Democrat four times since its entrance into the Union in 1889, making itself known to be a predominantly red state, according to U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Politico reported that in the most recent 2012 presidential election, South Dakota voted 57.9 percent in favor of Republican nominee Mitt Romney and 39.9 percent in favor of the Democratic nominee Barack Obama.

David Wiltse, assistant professor in political science, attributes the strong Republican hold in the state to a lack of racial diversity, strong religious presence and solid agricultural community, among other factors.

“A lot of populist sentiments have been able to be used by Republicans directed at Democrats,” Wiltse said. “Before, a lot of populist sentiments were being expressed in terms of economic vulnerability around the 1950s with the New Deal. Nowadays, those sentiments are being attached to social issues and white Evangelical identities that are better represented by Republicans.”

Another reason for the continuing Republican stronghold in the state is that many new voters adopt the political mindset of their parents, whether knowingly or not. Voter opinion passes from parent to child, which is why Wiltse believes SDSU’s campus is largely conservative.

Of the 66 counties in the state, ten of these were Democratic wins in the 2012 election, with the Brookings county almost becoming an eleventh. The county came in at 50.2 percent for the GOP candidate and 47 percent for the Democratic candidate, according to Politico.

A combination of SDSU’s campus, a larger racial diversity and a variety of companies operating in the city of Brookings, is said to contribute to this higher proportion of liberals in the largely red state.

“Academia in general tends to attract more liberals,” Wiltse said.

Students like Ally Brander and Jade Larson, president and vice president of College Republicans, respectively, said they have noticed this leaning in instructors.

“I think that a lot of the teachers here are very liberal while a lot of the students are more conservative,” Larson said.

Brander said the looming election is an opportunity for more political discourse across campus.

“I think that teachers are always really respecul and professional for what we have to say in class,” Brander said. “Especially with the election, I think that that’s able to get a lot of students talking about what’s going on and look at it for themselves too.”