“Four years ago, Dan Malloy won by 6,404 and that is the size of a college campus,” stressed Emma Janger ‘16, Programs Director for College Democrats of America and president of College Democrats of Connecticut (CDCT). With previous voting margins so close, this gubernatorial race was called the tightest race in the country and drew national attention, even bringing the Obamas and Chris Christie to the state. This campaign had the dubious distinction of being the most negative campaign in the country, with 79.5 percent of ads being on the attack. In this election, every vote counted. College students could have had a strong voice in this election, but they must capitalize on the vote.
Although Connecticut is known as a fairly blue state, Malloy was the first Democrat to win a governor’s race in 24 years. In 2010, both candidates were running on ideas of how they were going to enact change. Four years later, Malloy has proven that he can deliver on the progressive change on which he campaigned. However, Foley was determined to show that the state must go in a different direction.
Despite the same names on the ballot, this election was a different. “Malloy has a record to run on, an incredibly strong record of progressive changes that will make Connecticut a better place,” stated Becca Ellison ‘15, president of the Yale College Democrats, but “with a record, it is also easier to criticize [Malloy].”
Although polling data was infrequent, the most recent Quinnipiac poll, released on October 29, found that voters favored Foley only slightly over Malloy. Malloy and Foley tied at 43% each, with Independent candidate Joe Visconti receiving 7% and 6% undecided. However, with Visconti out of the race, Foley received 46% of the vote, compared to 45% for Malloy. With a race this tight, undecided voters were key. Of undecided voters, 6% are Democrat, compared to only 3% Republicans.
The incumbent governor Malloy has truly become a poster child for progressive change. At Yale, students are quickly inspired by Malloy’s action on “the death penalty being repealed” and the fact that “Malloy was one of the only governors to stand up to the NRA [National Rifle Association] and pass a comprehensive gun safety law,” cited Tyler Blackmon ‘17, Elections Coordinator for the Yale College Democrats.
For college students particularly, Malloy has been adamantly pushing for increasing college affordability. “Discussion on college affordability for the governor… has given college students an entry point” into political discourse, said Janger ‘16 in her interview with The Politic. “Malloy at his heart has the interest the structure of the economy and that is directly related to the power of our educational institutions and equal access to those,” said Marshal Lawler, a junior and president of Wesleyan Democrats.
For students at the University of Connecticut and other public colleges and universities, Malloy’s reelection is crucial. “The funding that the university has received from the state had decreased,” but “Governor Malloy has brought a lot of additional funding to UConn,” said Miles Halpine, a sophomore at the University of Connecticut, Vice President of the UConn College Democrats and Communications Director of CDCT. On a personal level, Malloy has shown a true commitment to college students. Malloy “has been a big support of UConn Athletics,” especially for the Huskies championship basketball teams. “He is always here to say hi to make sure his investment is made in the university,” emphasized Halpine.
Overall, the Malloy “campaign [has] been visible in making appearances, but also interested in providing support to college students,” stated Janger. With multiple visits to various college campuses, Malloy dedicated his time to engaging with this crucial demographic. At Yale alone, he made three visits, and he showed the same level of commitment to other college campuses in Connecticut. Whether he didn’t believe he had support among this group or just was not interested in engaging with this demographic, “you haven’t seen that involvement with Foley,” said Janger ‘16.
A former US ambassador to Ireland, Foley depended on frustration with lagging economic change, and Malloy overall, to propel him to victory. With a more reserved political persona, Foley remained relatively misunderstood, but defined himself as anti-Malloy. He pledged to take Connecticut in a new direction without disclosing his road map.
Visconti, the scrappy underdog of the race, amassed a unique coalition of supporters: critics of the Common Core (a national school standard curriculum), country music fans, Tea Party types, Reagan Democrats, classic car enthusiasts, and Italians. He had specifically been targeting Italians, as they represent 20% of the vote in the state. Viewed as the common Connecticut family man, Visconti tried to connect to average struggling families. At first, Visconti was suspected to draw votes away from Foley. However, later it seemed as if Visconti drew voters from both parties, despite running to the right of Foley.
Voter registration and turnout have historically been problems, not only in the 2010 election, but also as a greater trend in the United States. In 2010, only 57% of registered Connecticut voters actually casted a ballot. In New Haven, a critical Democratic city for Malloy, only 43% of registered voters turned out in 2010. However, wide margins of victory in Elm City would have been a key deciding factor on Election Day. In 2010, Malloy won 18, 613 votes over Foley in New Haven, a landslide compared to the slim vote margin of the state at large. Here is where voters at Yale, particularly, matter.
Blackmon ‘17 noted the energy about the campaign at Yale as “people are beginning to realize how competitive this race is,” and “now, students are finally tuning in.” For various reasons, many students chose to vote in Connecticut rather than their home state. Some chose to vote here because the race was so close, while others decided to invest in their new home for their four years. For Malina Simard-Halm ‘18, she “decided to vote in Connecticut because the race between Foley and Malloy… had very high stakes. New Mexico (her home state) has been pretty consistently blue, and though a vote in NM would have still been valuable, … every single vote counted in the Connecticut gubernatorial election.”
“Connecticut is your home for the next four years and that’s something to be said on being involved in the community in which you live, through community service, or civic engagement, such as voting,” noted Janger ‘16 in discussing why Yalies should have a stake in local politics. “Yale is a part of this community and we should see ourselves as residents of New Haven and the State of Connecticut and feel comfortable voting in this election and get excited about Connecticut politics,” said Ellison ‘15 in interview with The Poltic.
As the president of the Yale Democrats, Ellison ‘15 is concerned with “bridg[ing] the gap,” between Yale and New Haven, because “Yale students are residents of New Haven, in the same way permanent residents are.” Yalies have the right to voice their opinion in this election, but it is up to us to act on it.
Critics are quick to judge young voters as disengaged with the political process, but their passion shows in ways without a vote. For example, at Wesleyan, Lawler noted that the tradition of political activism is alive and well on campus, “but it takes a very different form than most people would assume.” Rather than engaging with the political structures, Wesleyan students engage in “a very profuse and active activist community.” For example, movements for gender equality, divestment, and reproductive rights have appeared across campuses nationwide.
A larger trend beyond this race is that young voters historically turn out to vote in paltry numbers.
During the last midterms in 2010, only 24% of millennials, aged 18-29, showed up to vote, compared to 51% of those 30 years and older. Apathy among young voters is not new in our generation, but if America truly wants to change the stalemate and frustration associated politics today, it is time for these young voters to start casting a ballot to enacting change. Millennials compose the largest generation in the country’s history, even larger than baby boomers. With these large numbers, young voters have the opportunity to truly dictate the direction of the nation.
Founded in 1990, Rock the Vote, a non-partisan, non-profit organization, is committed to helping young voters use their political voice. With prolific and controversial campaigns, Rock the Vote has maintained its relevance among young voters and has really dedicated itself to making voting the necessary and cool thing to do, through measures such as the recent #TurnOutforWhat video, a remake on Lil John’s classic “Turn Down for What.” In an interview with The Politic, the president of Rock the Vote, Ashley Spillane, stressed the importance of young voters actually turning out. “As the people, who will ultimately inherit the situation, all the good and the bad,” said Spillane, “we need to engage now…in order for us to put our stamp on the world.”
Rather than apathy, young voters could be absent from polling offices because of the complexity of voter registration. The “strenuous process” of registration and “bureaucratic problems…put up a lot of barriers for young people who are interested in participating in the political process” cited Lawler. Blackmon ‘17 criticized the Republican Party for having “pushed for voter suppression” that “harm[s] students” and “makes it harder for us to vote.”
Although Malloy may be an exception, overall, “candidates [are] not paying as much attention to young people during election,” said Spillane. They are “not giving young people the attention or investment in both discussing issues that matter most to them and also providing a level of education and incentives just to turn out.” This leads to a damaging “cyclical problem,” excluding young voters and justifying their apathy with government, as “[young voters] question the impact they have.” However, “at the end of the day, it is on us. We have this power. We have this unique opportunity. We could be the biggest voting bloc in this country.”
“We are fixing things outside the political system right now because we feel like that system is broken, but unfortunately that is not enough,” stressed Spillane. Now, “we must fix things within the system….The only way to have your voice heard in this system is to show up and vote, regardless of what you vote is….When you don’t show up to vote, people stop paying attention and pay attention to other people.”
Ultimately, this election tested a crucial question for politics nationwide: whether our country can and will support progressive agendas, an encouraging sign for moderate Democrats to demand strong progressive agendas without fearing for their reelection. More importantly, this election can be a starting ground to get young voters engaged with the political process. Voters who start young create a tradition, promoting a culture of voter turnout.
On November 4, Malloy won against Foley by considerably wider margins than before, 3 percentage points or 25,000 votes. The negative advertising damaged Foley’s chance, by turning away unaffiliated voters and lending itself to a Democrat victory. Malloy’s strong and robust campaigning in cities was unlike Connecticut had seen before and proved to be successful. Malloy focused on young and energetic individuals to help lead his grassroots campaign, much like Obama’s presidential campaign strategy. Outreach from college democrats was the backbone of the Malloy campaign. Voter turnout was also high, estimated at around 55% to 60%, perhaps because voters were motivated by how close this election was. On the Sunday before the election, Visconti withdrew from the election and endorsed Foley. News agencies emphasized that the 2014 elections were not about the candidates, but more importantly about the future of the state. Connecticut has now proven its commitment to continuing a strong progressive agenda.