By Kate Muntzner ‘24 (she/her), Staff Writer
In a swing state like North Carolina, third-party organizations have the ability to make a large impact on this year’s upcoming presidential election. Over the past few years, their ability to influence elections has gained national attention, as many Americans saw third-party candidates as a contributing factor to Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016. On the other hand, some citizens view third-party candidates as a safer alternative to candidates from the Democratic and Republican parties.
Although many Americans see the 2020 election as more of a two-man race between the candidates of the two mainstream parties than the 2016 election, third-party candidates have become increasingly popular options as the electorate grows more dissatisfied with Democratic nominee, Former Vice President Joe Biden, and the Republican nominee, President Donald Trump. Given the pandemic and election year, Davidson’s on-campus third-party organizations’ platforms, messages, and support for candidates have mostly remained consistent, with the majority of their programming occurring virtually.
College Libertarians is an independent political organization on campus advocating for not only an understanding of Libertarianism, but also for issues such as free speech and a reform to the two-party system. To promote their ideas and goals, College Libertarians are trying to host public events, including screening libertarian movies — such as the 2005 dystopian film V for Vendetta — and hosting discussions afterward.
Though College Libertarians enjoyed the virtual club fair because of the more intimate setting and the lack of noise from other clubs, President Kieran Clark ‘21 noted that third-party organizations typically struggle with recruitment.
“In terms of recruiting, obviously that’s going to be a problem for any third party organization –– pandemic or not –– because we are just not one of the two main options.”
That said, Clark explained that he values fewer members that are interested and engaged over a large crowd.
Although the club’s purpose has remained unchanged, the platforms and conversations have adjusted slightly this year. Clark said, “One thing that we’ve been talking about is the proper role of government in a pandemic. There are many things such as nationwide shutdowns and mask mandates that, while they have had positive effects on the pandemic itself, have had a lot of secondary effects, such as the closing of businesses, that have affected mental health and personal finance.”
Clark finds third-party options especially relevant during election years, as increased media coverage can highlight the flaws in the mainstream candidates. When voters feel dissatisfied with the two most popular options, they may seek an alternative.
“In the midst of an election, you can see Trump and Biden yelling at each other nonsensically,” Clark said. “I think there is probably not a more visceral way to show the flaws of the two-party system, so when people see something like that in an election year, they think more automatically about the third parties.”
The club has not officially endorsed any candidates, but Clark noted his excitement about Jo Jorgenson, the Libertarian Presidential candidate. For post-election goals, Clark hopes to continue the momentum for a reform to the two-party system and limited options for presidential candidates.
Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), a conservative organization on campus, continues to promote an environment where conservative students can voice their opinions. YAF is indirectly affiliated with a national organization entitled, the Young Americans Foundation, which is another conservative group promoting the “ideas of individual freedom, a strong national defense, free enterprise, and traditional values.”
“Our purpose is to essentially promote American liberties and American traditions on campus and provide a voice to people who feel that it is not the most welcoming environment for engagement,” YAF’s President Erik Eva ‘22 said.
In normal times, YAF hosts public events that include one or two speakers. In order to adapt to the pandemic, YAF has hosted more virtual meetings, including a screening of the Vice Presidential debate with live chats. Eva found the virtual club fair very efficient, but the organization is nevertheless currently exploring outdoor socially-distanced activities for its members.
In contrast to the College Republicans, YAF promotes conservative ideas but is not directly involved in campaigns. Though not officially endorsing any particular candidate, Eva said, “We are a conservative group, so we would probably support Trump, but in terms of actually going out and doing campaigns, we don’t typically [campaign for certain candidates].”
While the election has brought more energy to the club, the organization’s message and approach to promoting conservatism is mostly the same. Eva said, “It’s a lot more engaging to have an election going on with your political club. There’s a lot more things going on, with higher stakes. But in terms of the way we run things, it’s mostly the same.” The same holds true in their post-election goals. Eva concluded by saying, “We’re going to keep promoting American freedoms, and that’s going to be the same whether Trump is President or Biden.”
Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) is not technically a party, but rather a political and activist organization. The club is a branch of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), a national organization that aims “to fight for reforms that empower working people.”
Due to the pandemic, their goals for this semester are community building (because it’s difficult to meet people during the pandemic), group education events, and encouraging its members to work with local organizations, such as Charlotte Uprising, which an organization that advocates for “police accountability, transparency, and social and economic equity.”
Although YDSA supports the work of Davidson Democrats, Co-Chair Emily Troutman ‘23 explained, “Our main political focus has and remains non-electoral politics […] We do not want our work to be repetitive.” YDSA encourages its members to work with Davidson Democrats in their efforts with phone banking and elections, but the club’s goal is ultimately to go beyond voting.
This year, YDSA is not officially endorsing any candidates. Locally, YDSA recognizes that an endorsement in a conservative state from an organization associated with Socialism could scare voters away from candidates. Nationally, Troutman said, “As a club, we would encourage people to vote Trump out of office, and we know that the most effective way to do that is to vote for Biden. However, our big concern is that we don’t want people’s actions to stop with voting.” However, YDSA sympathizes with those who feel uncomfortable voting for Biden due to his past record on race and crime and the sexual harassment allegations against him, which is partially why they are not officially endorsing him.
Though one might expect more polarization between the political organizations because of the election, there actually seems to be more cooperation. College Democrats and College Republicans are working closely together to hold a virtual debate regarding their two presidential nominees.
President of College Republicans Maya Pillai ‘21 said, “I’m trying to do things a little bit with College Libertarians, but not so much with YAF because they don’t focus on North Carolina politics and YDSA not so much either. But I do work with YDSA, College Libertarians, College Democrats through CPE.”
Because the election will be close in North Carolina, every vote will matter. Regardless of one’s stance on voting third party in tight elections, third-party organizations have the ability to impact votes among Davidson students, this election, and the aftermath of the election as they gain more attention and traction in years to come.
Regarding the post-election, Clark concluded, “I feel like we’ve seen more momentum going into the election because more and more people are interested in an alternative way of doing politics […] I just hope that the momentum continues after the dust has settled.”