On a cold Saturday morning in February, more than 50 Harvard College Democrats bussed up to New Hampshire to rally support for their preferred candidate ahead of the state’s first-in-the-nation primary. Trudging through the snow, they knocked on doors and canvassed voters alongside other Boston-area college students.
But while the Harvard undergraduates who traveled that day were split among supporters of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton, a survey of Harvard seniors conducted by The Crimson revealed they prefer Clinton over Sanders.
Clinton continues to lead the race for delegates in the campaign for the Democratic nomination. Along the way, she has benefited from high levels of support among Harvard students, the overwhelming majority of Harvard faculty’s political contributions, and the expertise of a significant number of alumni working for her campaign as senior staffers.
The ties between Harvard and Hillary run remarkably deep.
A recent article in the Guardian characterized Harvard’s campus political climate as silencing for supporters of Clinton, but a number of students advocating for America’s former top diplomat to become the first female president said that is simply not the case.
Harvard has an active organization, Harvard Students for Hillary, which has held phone banks and run canvassing trips to support Clinton throughout the election cycle. Matthew Moore ’19, a coordinator for the group, said the national campaign welcomed their efforts.
“The campaign did look kindly upon us because we tended to reach the goals that we set out,” Moore said.
Many of the group’s student leaders over the past year are working for the campaign this summer, but declined to comment for this article, citing a campaign policy against speaking to the press. Student supporters not directly involved with the campaign this summer said they remain excited about the likelihood of her securing the Democratic nomination.
Jacob R. Carrel ’16, former president of the College Democrats, said members of the student group were split evenly among supporters of Clinton and Sanders. However, he said he actively supports her candidacy and that “a lot of members of the Harvard community respect her leadership ability and domestic and foreign policy experience.”
Data from The Crimson’s annual Senior Survey shows that within the ranks of the Class of 2016, Clinton enjoys strong and remarkably broad support among students, surpassing that of Sanders. Over 800 seniors participated in the survey.
According to the survey, 66 percent of senior respondents who voted in this year’s Democratic primaries cast their ballots for Clinton, compared to 33 percent who voted for Bernie Sanders.
As Donald J. Trump has emerged as the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee, the survey revealed that Harvard students who voted for Republicans in the primary have swung to the left and thrown their support behind Clinton.
Among the three remaining presidential candidates of Sanders, Clinton, and Trump, 67 percent of respondents said they preferred Clinton. This increase, however, does not appear to come from Bernie Sanders’ primary supporters, as he was the preferred candidate of 28 percent of respondents, about the same number who reported they preferred him in the primary matchup among all candidates.
Fifty-seven percent of respondents who supported former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as the GOP presidential nominee in the 2012, the first election in which most members of the class had the opportunity to vote, plan on voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Clinton’s support on Harvard’s campus is high, but it is comparable to support among millennials across the country, according to a national poll conducted by the Harvard Institute of Politics this spring. Likely voters between the ages of 18-29 favored Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in a general election 61 to 25 percent, with 14 percent still undecided, the poll found.
While many Harvard students have expressed their support for Clinton, the ties between Harvard and Hillary are even stronger among the University’s graduates and faculty.
Clinton enjoys the almost unchallenged financial backing of faculty who donate to presidential campaigns, and she has drawn on the University’s alumni to fill top spots in her campaign. At the same time as Clinton enjoys faculty and alumni support, Harvard has also benefited by hiring former top staffers who served with Hillary or in Bill Clinton’s presidential administration.
An analysis conducted by The Crimson found that 91 percent of contributions to current presidential candidates made by Harvard faculty, instructors, and researchers in 2015 went to Clinton.
Former top staffers who served with Hillary or in Bill Clinton’s presidential administration have also served in leading roles at Harvard. The Director of the Institute of Politics is Margaret A. “Maggie” Williams, a former top Clinton adviser and manager of her 2008 presidential campaign. Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, Lawrence H. Summers, led Harvard as President and is currently a professor. Former Dean of the Kennedy School David T. Ellwood ’75 was a senior official in the Clinton administration’s antipoverty effort, and Economics professor David M. Cutler '87 served on Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers and in the National Economic Council.
The road between the Clintons and Harvard goes both ways. When Hillary Clinton began assembling her core campaign staff in 2014, she tapped a number of Harvard alumni to lead the charge to the White House. Madeleine “Mandy” Grunwald ’79, a longtime Clinton ally and Democratic media strategist, was chosen as Clinton’s senior adviser for communications. Working beside Grunwald on the campaign’s communications staff is Brian E. Fallon Jr. ’03, Clinton’s national press secretary.
Some of Clinton’s top political and digital strategists also have Harvard degrees. Amanda A. Renteria, a Business School graduate, serves as the campaign’s political director. As Clinton built out her digital strategy, she called on another Business School graduate, Stephanie K. Hannon, to serve as the campaign’s chief technology officer. Also on the technology side, Nellwyn A. “Nell” Thomas ’05 serves as director of digital analytics.
Among the lower ranks of the campaign’s large apparatus, recent Harvard College graduates have filled spots with the potential hope of working their way up the ladder and into a Hillary Clinton administration. Daniel R. Ki ’15, Ross C. Svenson ’15, and Valentina I. Perez ’15, all former leaders within the Democratic community during their time as undergraduates, joined the Clinton campaign after graduating. They later moved on to roles in the New Hampshire Democratic Party, Pennsylvania Democratic Party, and Hillary for America Brooklyn headquarters, respectively.
—Staff writer William C. Skinner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @wskinner.