If you have been anywhere other than under a rock the past few months, then you will have heard about the ongoing race to decide the Republican and Democrat nominee for the next President of the United States. There has been much speculation, and many insults thrown from radical and moderate candidates alike, making it one of the most interesting races witnessed in recent times. Being thousands of miles away from where the action is does not seem to have made any difference to our interest in this crucial race. With the University of St Andrews having the largest concentration of American students of any university in the U.K., it is even harder to escape the electoral noise.
As our University has a fairly liberal student body, it can be quite difficult to find vocal Republicans. Spencer Matthews, a modern history graduate, is one of those select few. He believes that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump represent the “same problem” but with “different faces,” saying that both of them pose a risk to the country’s current economic growth, which a different Republican candidate would be best able to preserve. He also thinks that there are issues with the way in which the Republican party has attacked President Obama’s record, saying that by doing so in increasingly vicious ways, the “Republican establishment has extended legitimacy to Trump” and his vitriolic campaign rhetoric.
Describing himself as socially liberal and fiscally conservative, it made sense for him to support Rand Paul, the libertarian firebrand who eventually had to suspend his campaign following a fifth-place finish at the Iowa caucuses earlier this month. Following Paul and Jeb Bush dropping out, Mr Matthews is turning towards supporting Marco Rubio as the least radical Republican remaining, despite Rubio’s Senate attendance record being “pretty poor,” and lack-lustre debate performance.
In light of Madeleine Albright’s comments that women should support Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate simply because she is a woman, I spoke with female members of the Democrats Abroad society. Specifically, I wanted to know they thought about the expectation that, as women, they ought to vote for Clinton. All of them happened to be Bernie Sanders supporters.
Nikki Stavile, a postgraduate student from Denver, Colorado, says that she is not a “single issue voter” and that the gender of a candidate is of no relevance to her. She argues that if she were to vote based on the sole fact that Clinton is a woman, without much regard for policies, then it would mean she should have supported Palin in 2008.
Kathrina Schneckloth, a student from Nebraska, agrees; saying that there should be no expectation for women to vote for Clinton purely due to Clinton’s gender. She insists that the current crop of feminists are ready to study policy over everything else, even if they are not totally “gender blind.” When asked about the difference between Clinton supporters and Sanders supporters, Ms Scheckloth suggested that there is a “hesitancy” and “aversion to risk” embedded in the views of the former. Sanders fans, however, embrace change, and are willing to accept the risks that change may bring; a mentality which she believes Clinton supporters do not share.
Ms Stavile believes that the democratic nomination race thus far has been “about the issues” that matter most to Americans, and she is excited that Sanders has managed to win as many primary elections as he had, saying that he is now seen by the media and the populace as a “potential president” and can no longer be dismissed as a socialist outsider. Ms Scheckloth says that a key reason why she supports Sanders is that he supports the legalisation of marijuana across the US. She believes that this would help to “counter the systemic racial imbalance in prisons,” where African-Americans are disproportionately incarcerated on drug charges.
Second-year physics student Jacob Arnould applauds Sanders for “reinvigorating the debate” and for “having the balls to stand up to the establishment,” as well as for “inspiring a new generation of young people to get involved in a movement to take back our democracy and economy from moneyed interests.” This makes Sanders “bae,” says Mr Arnould.
Aware of the over-representation of Sander supporters, I ventured into the field of Clintonites. Michael Lupher, a first-year economics students, was honest about his experience as a young Clinton supporter.
During the meeting, he opined that it was “embarrassing,” which was met with keen laughter from the rest of the group. Mr Lupher says it is “hard being a Clinton supporter” and believes that Clinton has done a “poor job of controlling media cycles, allowing herself to be portrayed as part of the establishment.” When asked why he doesn’t support Sanders like many others, he explained that “socialism is still a dirty word in America,” which will make it incredibly difficult for Sander to pursue his agenda should he be elected because he would not be able to gain bipartisan support, and maybe not even the support of his own party. Mr Lupher doubts that Sanders will be able to translate his limited primary victories into any substantial national support should he become the Democrat nominee. Clinton, on the other hand, has “good ideas to fix the fundamentally broken system” at work in America, he says, and she is by far the most reliable candidate because she is not too polarising. While the more extreme presidential candidates would invite fierce resistance in Congress, more centrist candidates like Clinton have the attractive ability to achieve bipartisan support. Crucially he says, she is “good on foreign policy,” an area in which Sanders is considerably less experienced.
Ali West, from Seattle, agrees. She says that the president must be prepared to “constantly compromise” as bipartisanship is the only way to achieve political change in America, due to it’s restrictive constitution. She believes that only Clinton can offer this level of bipartisanship. Sanders, she says, is doing well because fundamentally he is a populist and “populism is sexy.” He makes “good points” about the state of the American economy and the country’s political system, yet Sanders’ agenda is “overly simplistic,” according to Ms West. He lacks the pragmatism, bipartisan support and foreign policy experience that makes Clinton the “better candidate” in her eyes.
She also finds it “alarming” that Sanders has “barely if at all” changed his opinions on various issues. She believes that it is a sign of strength that Clinton has been able to evolve as a politician, not “flip-flopping,” as others have characterized her behaviour. It shows that she would be sensitive to rational advice while in office, whereas dogmatic candidates whose views do not change would be less responsive to changing times and circumstances.
Ms West says that Clinton has had to “crawl through mud” in order to reach the position of power that she currently holds and boldly claims that were Clinton a man there would be “no question whatsoever” of who the Democratic frontrunner is.
Moreover, while Ms West agrees that it should not be an obligation for women to vote for Clinton, she says that they should understand the “context of the 21st-century political situation” for female candidates, in which it is nearly impossible for women to rise to powerful positions the way that Clinton has done. (Indeed, Clinton is the first serious female presidential candidate America has ever seen.) Ms West continues, saying that Clinton should “receive some more recognition” for paving the way for other ground-breaking women in politics, such as Elizabeth Warren.
Just as the old mould of a president is broken, “new moulds are being shaped.” Both Clinton and Sanders – and certainly Trump – attest to this fact.
Speaking of which, I managed to snag a sit-down with a supporter of the man who appears to be headed straight towards the Republican nomination.
Connor Mickelsen, a first-year divinity and management student, is originally from California. A registered Republican, he admires Trump for standing up to the establishment and being unafraid to speak his mind. If it was not for Trump, he says, people would not be “talking about the big issues” as openly as they are now.
Mr Mickelsen is not put off by the controversial statements that Trump has made on the campaign trail. Instead, he says that they are “free publicity” and have probably helped him to attract more votes. Trump’s “bold, brazen and brash” display is what entices people, and he believes that Trump is “a breath of fresh air.”
Trump’s comments “excite and galvanise” Mr Mickelsen said, and this only furthered his support. Trump has “only been alienating to people who wouldn’t have voted for him anyway,” he said, and therefore any criticism is of little importance to his campaign.
He supports Trump’s proposal to temporarily ban all Muslims from entering the US, “not out of bigotry” but because the state of the world is “dangerous” and because “Islam is the centre of religious radicalism” currently.
When asked what he thinks of Britain’s response to Trump’s proposal (in which over 500,000 people signed a petition to ban Trump from entering the country), Mr Mickelsen says that people “shouldn’t let Trump’s social stances blind them from the rest of his policies.”
Mr Mickelsen’s endorsement stems from his belief that Trump will solve America’s economic “downfall” and ensure that there is “less animosity between classes” and “more regulation of the banks.” Bold claims, as many question the validity of Trump’s policies, including many from within the Republican party.
In a very different camp, Julianna Zachariou, a JSA also from California, is undecided. But she does know that she wants a president who is not “overly ambitious”, because she believes that change can only be achieved through incremental “set goals” that are attainable.
Describing the contest, she says: “Nobody knows what will happen,” though it will be undeniably historic. This is perhaps the only thing on which we can all agree.