Beyond the horse-race, the survey illustrates deeper trends, which highlight a strong sense of social justice among today’s college students. College students are more progressive (dare I say liberal?) than their parents. In fact, 44 percent of college students described themselves as liberal on the survey (compared to 30 percent conservative), which should frighten all Republicans currently using “liberal” as a substitute for a four-letter word. Specifically, college students reject the Bush administration’s divisive social agenda. About 60 percent of those surveyed said they do not believe religious values should play an important role in government and (in striking contrast to their parents) close to the same number support gay marriage. Every generation discards another prejudice and ours is no different. Despite the prejudiced and divisive “defense of marriage” arguments, we cling to the idea of an America free of prejudice. And right-wing Republicans should remember: the college students of today are the swing voters of tomorrow.
Not only do we reject the politics of social division, but we embrace progressive public policy. According to the survey, an astounding 60 percent of college students nationwide believed that environmental protection should be as high a priority as protecting jobs. An even higher 69 percent said they believe that basic health insurance is a right that the government should provide for those unable to pay. And only 22 percent said they believe that cutting taxes is the best way to create jobs (37 percent disagreed). By no means, however, are we looking for handouts. Forty-six percent disagreed with the statement that hard work doesn’t generally bring success by itself (29 percent agreed). We believe in real opportunity and real fairness and we’re not afraid to work for it.
The Democratic Party has connected with college students across this nation, and for all the right reasons. Sixty-six percent of college students said they believe issues are most important in choosing a leader, in contrast to 52 percent of all voters, a figure which includes their supposedly more mature parents. We care and we will vote Democratic. The 2004 election will be the most important one of our young lives. It is often said that there are few swing voters; the only swing factor is whether they vote or not. If this is the case, college students could be an important swing bloc in the Democrats’ favor. Apathy and cynicism are no longer excuses for not voting in an age where our rights vanish before our eyes, deficits rise that we will inevitably pay and leaders lie to our face. No one is going to give us anything; voting is the only way we will gain political respect.
Not only are we College Democrats numerous, but we are also energized. An unprecedented number of young people became involved in the primary campaign this cycle, not only volunteering for their favorite candidates, but also giving money and utilizing their social networks. This energy can only increase now that we have a nominee, John Kerry, to rally behind. Kerry is a veteran who has the experience to lead and the integrity to restore faith in our government. And Kerry will require of young people what President Bush did not have the courage to do after Sept. 11, 2001: ask for sacrifice. His “Service for College” plan will provide either full tuition or financial assistance to over 500,000 college students in return for national service such as tutoring young and/or underprivileged children, environmental cleanup and homeland defense. Kerry will also work with our allies to bring peace to Iraq, and repeal Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest so we can afford universal health care and real homeland security.
Unfortunately, these dreams cannot become reality until we tell the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.—in the words of Donald Trump—“You’re fired!” President Bush enjoys the benefits of incumbency—fundraising ability and a readily-available bully pulpit. He has also utilized the politics of fear, making Americans believe (wrongly) that only he can safeguard them against the evils of terror. While this is despicable and the lowest form of politics, generally reserved for totalitarian regimes, it is also extremely effective. We Democrats need to fight back. We need to send the message loud and clear that we are patriots and want our country back from the corporations and right-wing nuts.
In order to send this message, we need two things: money and manpower. That is why the Harvard College Democrats have set a goal for “10,000 Dollars, 10,000 Hours.” By the end of the campaign on Nov. 2, Harvard students will raise $10,000 and give 10,000 hours of their time to defeating Bush, electing John Kerry and moving our country forward. I challenge every Harvard student who cares about his or her country to give, at minimum, $10 of his or her money and 10 hours of his or her time to phone bank, canvass in New Hampshire or volunteer on a political campaign in the summer. Together, and only together, we can move America forward. The Harvard College Democrats have already knocked on nearly 250 Harvard doors, but we need your help. Go to our website, www.HarvardDems.com, to sign up for our campaign effort and give money to Kerry. The recent survey has confirmed what we knew all along—we Harvard Democrats are not alone. Let us make our presence felt.
Andy J. Frank ’05, an environmental science and public policy concentrator in Lowell House, is president of the Harvard College Democrats.