As the contentious and divisive 2012 presidential campaign draws to a close, Cornell students and professors say that this year’s election has not generated nearly the same level of excitement on campus as the one in 2008.
During the 2008 campaign, Cornell’s campus was “abuzz,” said Prof. Theodore Lowi, government.
“There was a lot of talk, a lot of chatter, among both faculty and students, on the issues,” he said.
But this year, Lowi said, he has seen far less enthusiasm about the upcoming presidential election.
“Walking around campus, I’ve seen no excitement, nothing energizing. I see it as a typical fall term. I don’t see that students are eager to get involved in spats with each other or talk about what has happened lately in politics,” he said.
Prof. Isaac Kramnick, government, said campus interest in the 2008 presidential race was in large part due to the state of the economy.
“The election in 2008 occurred with the economy in absolute shambles,” he said. “Students were just as worried and concerned as their parents were about the possibility … of revisiting the Great Depression.”
Still, citing the number of issues at stake in the 2012 election, Kramnick said he was surprised by the “general lack of enthusiasm” among students.
Kramnick said that the 2012 election also differs from the 2008 election because President Obama faced a particularly challenging campaign for re-election. He quoted former
New York Governor Mario Cuomo, who in 1985 wrote: “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.”
“I think the real issue with Obama is that four years ago, he was campaigning in poetry — the poetry of hope, change and the drama of an African American running for president,” Kramnick said. “This time around, he is running in prose, because he has been governing for four years and no one sounds as exciting, as thrilling, after they had their hands tarnished by having to govern.”
Max Schechter ’14, chair of public relations for the Cornell Democrats, agreed that Obama’s campaign has lost much of the novelty that made him so appealing in 2008.
“It’s the difference between an ideal presidency and a reality,” he said.
Still, Schechter said Obama’s record as an incumbent could also work in his favor.
“I think we have more concrete things to be happy about, like the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and the saving of the auto industry,” Schechter said. “The difference [in this election] is that we’ve gotten to see [Obama’s] ideas put into practice.”
Jess Reif ’14, chair of the Cornell Republicans, countered that it is Obama’s performance during his first term — not the fact that he is running for re-election — that explains why Cornellians are not as excited about this election as they were in 2008.
“I think in his 2008 campaign, [Obama] seemed like a bold leader,” she said. “In the last four years, he has proven that he’s incompetent.”
Reif said that she expects this lack of enthusiasm to be reflected in a decrease in youth voter turnout this season.
“Voter turnout, particularly among young people, is going to be a lot lower than in 2008,” Reif said. “Then, we saw record numbers. I don’t see the enthusiasm that existed in 2008 for either candidate.”
Schechter agreed, adding that the diminished excitement among young Americans has been noticeable on Cornell’s campus.
“People at Cornell aren’t as excited for either candidate or about politics in general,” he said.
Lowi said he finds students’ lack of interest in the election “disturbing.”
“There’s so much at stake in this election and a lot to talk about,” he said. “It would be nice to see more engagement.”
Students and professors also suggested that Cornellians’ decisions to vote Tuesday may be driven by a desire to see one candidate lose — rather than by a passion for the person they are voting for.
“A lot of people see Romney as a capable business leader and see his election as a chance to turn around the economy,” Reif said. “[But] others take the view that we can’t afford another four years of Obama.”
Kramnick, however, said a lack of enthusiasm for President Obama on campus may not necessarily reflect perceptions of his shortcomings as a leader. Rather, he said, Obama simply is not the fresh face he was four years ago.
“Obama’s now a known quantity,” Kramnick said. “I don’t think it reflects disillusionment in the sense that students feel he didn’t perform.”