UB’s political clubs reflect political climate nationwide in some ways, contrasts in other ways
Faculty, students discuss similarities and differences between political clubs and political parties
The Democrat and Republican parties are fractured and polarized. While UB’s two major political clubs feature a wide range of ideologies among members, these differences bring them together rather than pull them apart.
UB’s biggest political clubs are the College Democrats and the College Republicans. There are also two new, temporary clubs: Young Democratic Socialists of America and Young Americans for Freedom, as well as Young Americans for Liberty, UB’s libertarian organization.
College Democrats has roughly 20 active members, according to UB Democrats President Erika Hollis. The organization hosts different events throughout the semester such as a political debate with the College Republicans moderated by UB’s Debate Society. They also organize a banquet called Rhetoric Ball with College Republicans.
During their weekly meetings, members participate in political activism for the local community.
“We get involved in local campaigns through phone-banking, petitioning and canvassing,” Hollis said. “We like to end our meetings with a ‘weekly action’ such as calling your local Congressman to try and make a difference as a group.”
College Republicans has roughly 45 active members, according to UB Republicans President Andrew Weiner. College Republicans hold a weekly meeting during which they discuss current political events. They also host several events jointly with College Democrats to “continue to build a professional relationship.”
Weiner believes joining political clubs such as College Republicans helps students to get informed about political issues.
“Joining [a club] for a certain party makes it more comfortable to voice opinions,” Weiner said, “But we also like when members of College Dems come to our meetings because they offer a different point of view.”
At the national level, the two political parties are fragmented in many ways, according to political science professor Jacob Neiheisel. However, he feels the Republicans are more fragmented than the Democrats.
“This is because minority parties have much more of an incentive to stick together, providing a unified opposition to the majority party,” Neiheisel said. “But there are several factions within each party, though, that make governing difficult.”
He believes Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have “brought light” to divisions within each party, making it acceptable to have an identity outside of the typical Democrat or Republican label.
Neiheisel believes the student political clubs “roughly” reflect the scattered ideological trends in the national political parties. But while UB’s political clubs feature students that hold differing ideologies, this actually brings them together, rather than pushing them apart.
“There are different types of Republicans that attend our meetings and they are all able to voice their opinions,” Weiner said.
Republicans of all different political stripes attend College Republicans meetings, including libertarians, moderate Republicans, and more conservative Republicans. Club members engage in open, respectful dialogue about differences in point of view.
“What the members of our club do well is discussing the nuances of different beliefs,” Weiner said.
Hollis believes her club reflects the Democratic Party shifting toward a “progressive” left—but she believes the goal of a progressive left cannot be achieved if students do not vote.
“Democrats need young people to turn out the vote because if they do not they lose,” Hollis said. “Just ask Bernie.”
She feels the discussions and debates are the most educational part of being in College Democrats.
“You are able to strengthen your own arguments about a particular subject by listening to someone else's argument that you agree with, but may never have thought of in that way,” she said.
She believes while Sanders did not win, he changed the Democratic Party.
“Bernie brought Hillary to the left and in doing so brought the entire race to the left,” Hollis said.
She feels the country is moving at “a very slow pace” with reforms. Therefore, she thinks it is important to get the younger generation involved in order to make reform happen more quickly.
“The more mobile our generation is, the better the Democrats will do,” Hollis said.
While Hollis acknowledged that there is a split in the national Democratic Party, she strives to make her club as inclusive as possible to a variety of left-leaning ideologies.
“I’ve done my best to reach out to other liberal clubs and extend an olive branch to ‘Bernie Bros’ that may have been lost in the 2016 election,” Hollis said.
While students are trying to bridge political divides, the opposite is happening on the national level.
“The parties continue to become more polarized such that the Democrats and Republicans in Congress hardly ever cross the aisle,” Neiheisel said. “Being on the right partisan ‘team’ has become more important to legislators than crafting public policy.”
Erika Hollis has similar concerns about the Democratic Party.
“If [the national Democratic Party] does not unite, they are not only doomed for their attempts to get Congress—or at least part— back in 2018, but 2020 is doomed as well,” Hollis said.
Weiner, however, remains optimistic about the future of his party.
“I think the GOP has a bright future,” Weiner said. “The American citizens are continuing to vote red, and it is having a positive impact on state governments.”
Maddy Fowler is a news editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org