A majority of students at State say the Democratic Party does better at reaching out to them, according to our most recent poll (Oct. 20- 24th). Students were asked whether each major political party, “does a good job reaching out to students”, “takes student voters for granted”, “doesn’t care about students”, or “is hostile towards students.” Overall 63% of respondents thought the Democratic Party does a good job reaching out to students, but just 25% said the same about the Republican party. In fact, 41%, the plurality response, said the Republican Party doesn’t care too much about students.
In a climate where partisanship dominates Americans’ political viewpoints, it was surprising to find that even a majority (55%) of self-identified Republicans thought the Democratic Party does a good job. Shockingly, 31% of Republicans said that their own party doesn’t care about students.
Why is this the case? The more positive image students have of the Democratic Party likely stems from the Democratic Party’s concerted efforts to sell themselves to younger voters. President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns were hailed for their ability to bring out the youth vote, a subsection of the vote that he handily won in both elections (Pew). Republican students appear to acknowledge these efforts.
Men and Women see the parties differently?
There is also a gender gap evident when looking at students’ positive evaluations of the Democratic party. As shown in the graph below, female students across the partisan spectrum were more likely than men to recognize the Democratic party’s outreach. The gap is largest among Democrats, at 14%, but is evident across Republican and Independent students as well.
The gender gap ia arguably due to explicit attempts by the Democratic Party to appeal to women, as they have with students. For example, Senator Hagan’s campaign has chosen to negatively highlight Thom Tillis’s track record on women’s rights as Speaker of the NC House (N&O). Beyond just Hagan, prominent Democrats like Nancy used the “War on Women” narrative prominently throughout recent years. The tag line described the legislative agenda of the GOP majority elected in 2010 as harmful to women’s rights, consequentially branding the Democratic party as the logical home for women voters.
Does Image Matter?
We know that both major parties spend lots of resources positioning themselves as a brand, appealing to people on both issue positions and social identities. Our data suggest that the Democratic Party is recognized as branded toward students, more so than the Republican Party. Recent comments by prominent GOP Senator, Rand Paul, suggest that the GOP brand is broken. The question is whether this branding has an effect on party membership and vote share.
There is evidence that the Democratic party’s outreach towards women has been effective. Nationally, women are more likely than men to identify themselves as a Democrat (Pew). Similarly on campus, female students are 7% more likely to support Hagan, while males are 12% more likely to support Tillis. The graph below highlights the gender gap in candidate’s supporters on campus.
Appealing to students as a voting bloc appears to be less effective. Although the Democratic Party’s outreach to students is viewed more favorably by the Wolfpack, that does not necessarily translate into more votes for Hagan. In fact, our poll found that among NCSU students, the election between Hagan and Tillis is still essentially a toss-up. Among students at NCSU, both Hagan and Tillis are tied at 30% of the vote. The Democratic party’s branding of itself as the party of students is recognized, but not effective on our campus.