OSU College Republicans Reluctantly Embrace Trump, Democrats Warm to Clinton

College Republican groups at universities nationwide have struggled to embrace their parties’ presidential nominee, Donald Trump. Groups remain bitterly divided on if and to what extent to support Trump – facing backlash from their campuses and alumni if they support him as well as from members of their own ranks if they do not support him. The Ohio State University’s chapter of the College Republicans is no exception.

Using a three-wave panel study of individuals in the OSU College Republicans, I assess if and to what extent the group’s attitudes about Donald Trump, and other Republican presidential candidates, have changed throughout the election season. The first survey wave took place before the election season began (September-November 2015), the second wave took place during the Democratic and Republican Primary in the state of Ohio (February-March 2016), and the third wave of the study is currently in the field. Each survey wave asked participants about their feelings toward Donald Trump and other candidates for president on a scale from 0 to 10 where ‘0’ represents very unfavorable feelings, ‘10’ represents very favorable feelings, and ‘5’ represents neutral feelings toward the presidential candidates.

The change in the groups’ average feelings toward presidential candidates is graphed in Figure 1. Before the election began (Wave 1), individuals in the College Republicans reported neutral feelings toward Donald Trump while support for the current Ohio Governor, John Kasich, and Marco Rubio was around three points more favorable. During the Republican presidential primary in the state (Wave 2), support for Trump dropped significantly. The Ohio State College Republicans were notably strong Kasich supporters and even played a role in recruiting volunteers for the Kasich campaign in the state.


However, the general election campaign (Wave 3) demonstrates the groups’ embrace of Donald Trump, though support for Kasich and Rubio remain higher than support for Trump. Results correspond to trends among College Republican groups and mainstream Republicans nationwide – initial reluctance to embrace the candidate in the primaries but a gradual, if tepid, response to Trump as the Republican presidential nominee. Despite their personal feelings toward Donald Trump, 85% of the group have already or will vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election – proving that they remain among the party faithful.

The Ohio State College Democrats’ support for Hillary Clinton has also increased (Figure 2), but not as drastically as the College Republicans’ support for Trump. While there was an initial preference for former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders among the College Democrats (Wave 1), the group unified around their parties’ presidential candidate in the general election (Wave 3).


The 2016 Presidential Election has been anything but typical – especially among the Republican Party. College Republican chapters, which groom some of the parties’ greatest leaders (e.g., Karl Rove and Rick Santorum), remain reluctant but faithful supporters of their parties’ nominee. The cost of that support for the College Republicans and the Republican Party more generally remains to be seen.

Interested in learning more about what Ohio State students think about the 2016 presidential candidates and some of the most contentious issues of the election? You can read some of their thoughts here, here, and here.

Visit my Research Site!

I created a personal website that is more focused on the research and work that I do day in, day out. You can check it out here and let me know what you think. I’ll still be keeping and updating this site in order to engage with students in my Introduction to American Government course.

A Quick Break…

I’m taking a break for the next couple of weeks but will be back with regularly scheduled posts on July 1st. I’d love to get your feedback on the purpose, content, and future of the site. Take the short survey here.

Until then, here’s a collection of some recent content:

Again, I’d like to hear what you want to see on this site! Let me know here. For your participation, you can win a $25 Amazon gift-card.

Informed Weekend: 10 Links I Learned From This Week (Vol. 21)

Here are the ten(ish) links I learned from this week:

  1. Presidential Election Update
    1. Clinton takes Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Connecticut
    2. Bernie wins Rhode Island
    3. Trump takes Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware
    4. Cruz announces Fiorina as his vice-presidential pick
      1. Ted Cruz just threw a Hail Mary named ‘Carly Fiorina’ (The Washington Post)
      2. Can Carly Fiorina Save Ted Cruz’s Candidacy? (FiveThirtyEight)
    5. A Cruz-Kasich alliance?
      1. Cruz and Kasich devise strategy to keep Trump from clinching three primary states (The Washington Post)
      2. Why Cruz-Kasich Deal Has the Potential to Stop Trump (The New York Times)
    6. 9 questions about interest rates you were too embarrassed to ask (Vox)
    7. North Carolina Restroom Law Becomes a Central Election Issue (The New York Times)
    8. The North Carolina case that could decide the future of the voting rights in the US, explained (Vox)
    9. Why the 2016 veepstakes could be the most chaotic in decades (The Washington Post)
    10. Bernie Sanders says Democrats should get rid of closed primaries. Is he right? (Vox)
    11. Why did Ted Cruz send his dad to Puerto Rico? Marco Rubio’s delegates. (The Washington Post)
    12. The single most important fact about American Politics (Vox)

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"Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz" by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz” by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Frankenstein’s Monster

Written by Jakob Miller

Back in 2012, something weird happened during the presidential primaries. It was quite a bit like the primary season we’re going through now — fewer candidates, but the same jockeying for position. Nothing odd there.

No, the odd thing was who was supporting who. The doves in the Republican party — the anti-war camp, that is — were largely backing John McCain.

John McCain flags down a bus.
Photo by Medill DC. (CC BY 2.0)

Now, if you’re familiar with Senator McCain, you’re probably quite puzzled at hearing that. If you aren’t, then McCain’s position can perhaps best be summed up by the fact that at the time he was criticizing the Pentagon for not asking for enough soldiers. He was going to send more tanks than they even wanted. A gung-ho hawk, in other words.

So why would anti-war folks back a heavily pro-war candidate? It’s not a one-off mistake. Norpoth and Perkins1 point out that when Eugene McCarthy ran for President in 1968, for example, he somehow got the support of those in favor of the Vietnam War — despite being against it himself.

Instead, it all starts to become clear if you think of people like Frankenstein’s Monster.

Yes I know this is actually Herman.
Photo by ICH. (CC BY 2.0)

Frankenstein’s monster can’t form complicated opinions, just an object and a level of satisfaction. So “FIRE…BAD!” is about the limit there.

The American voting public is about the same. “TAXES BAD! FLAG GOOD!” So if you’re a dove in the Republican Party and John McCain starts criticizing the way the war is being run, you’re thinking “WAR BAD” and he’s saying “WAR BAD”. The actual content of his criticism — that the current war is bad because we aren’t sending enough troops — never makes it across.

Imagine the sum total of all those unsophisticated opinions — this is the zombie army version of the Frankenstein’s monster model, if you like. So we take all the demands for conservative policies (“TAX CUTS GOOD, MILITARY CUTS BAD”, etc.) and we get a general sense of the public’s policy mood: the degree to which the hordes of American voters are droning “CONSERVATIVE GOOD” or what have you.

When you change the temperature on your thermostat, you don’t have a complicated opinion either. It’s too hot or too cold, and you give the knob a twist in the appropriate direction and wait to see how you feel. Repeat that pattern until some acceptable temperature is achieved. The public treats voting the same way: Things feel too liberal out there? That making you mad? Throw a Republican into office and see how you feel now!

Now, this style of voting is not exactly the democratic ideal. The public isn’t sitting and weighing the costs and benefits of one candidate’s policy platform against the others. They might not have any idea what either candidate’s position actually is: but that McCain guy’s mad, and I’m mad, and that’s good enough for me!

You can see this in our current voting cycle as well! We currently have two outsider candidates doing far better than anyone predicted.

Two angry men. Photo by Chicago Tribune, used under Fair Use.

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are definitely from opposite sides of the aisle – and that’s what makes it odd when voters say things like this:

Daniel Nadeau, 22, of St. Albans, Vt., said of Mr. Trump. “Bernie is my No. 1 choice, and Trump is No. 2. They’re not that different.” New York Times.

They may be bitterly opposed ideologically: but Bernie and the Donald are both angry. They both give voice to pent up political frustrations. And for a lot of Americans, that’s good enough.

Now, if you’re cynical enough that that doesn’t surprise or bother you:

  1. Congratulations on your future career in politics! And..
  2. Consider the implications.

If you’re in an elected office, conventional wisdom would say that you should deliver. If you got in because the public was in the mood for more liberal policy, you had better come up with some liberal reforms if you want to keep your seat.

Buuuuut… If you only got elected because the public was hungry for change, then it’s in your best interest to keep them hungry. If you actually go around delivering on your campaign promises, you’d reduce the public’s demand for liberal policy. All those angry zombies that got you into office would quiet down, and you’d have handed the advantage over to your conservative competitor come reelection time as his zombies get all fired up.2 If the public was paying attention to the details of what you actually did, and rewarding you appropriately, then there wouldn’t be a problem: but Frankenstein Smiley..

America is like a country with a broken thermostat — when we turn the heat up, the furnace has a vested interest in keeping the house cold because of how much it hates the air conditioner. So the next time a politician gets under your skin for not keeping their campaign promises, consider this: would you do any better?


1. Link.
2. Link.

Why Rick Perry Wore Glasses

Written by Jakob Miller

This is former Texas Governor Rick Perry. He was in the 2016 presidential race, but only briefly. If you think back to the 2012 election, however, you almost certainly remember him for this (much to Mr. Perry’s annoyance):

His opponents had a field day with that clip, and the image of Perry as “unprepared” or “unintelligent” was fixed in the public mind. More than a few political pundits blamed that moment on the Michigan stage for the death of Perry’s campaign.

So, when Mr. Perry decided to throw his hat into the rather crowded 2016 ring, he did so with a plan. A strategy. A way to shake off the images that still dogged him from the past campaign, and ensure that this time he’d be taken seriously.

He bought a pair of glasses.

Rick Perry in Glasses
Photo by Kent Williams. (CC BY 2.0)

Now, you might, at this point, be amused at the transparency of this attempt1 but it’s unlikely that you’ve given it anymore thought than that. So step back a moment and consider.

A very competent2 and powerful person, while preparing to mount a serious effort to become one of the most powerful people in the world, decided to spend time and effort on a fashion accessory to counteract the effects of a flubbed line on a cable show four years ago.

The fact is, Perry’s decision was the right call. We can break down the voting decisions the public makes fairly easily. Once you get past things like political parties and the current crop of hot-button issues, you have what William Jacoby3 euphemistically calls `personal evaluations’. In other words, once you get past the signposts and the substance, people start judging the candidates based on how they feel about them. That’s why, if you want to be president, it’s very important that you be tall and good-looking.4

And don’t dismiss all this as silly nonsense, either. Sure, picking `the leader of the free world’ based on height and hairdo might seem like a bad idea. But if you’re the average American voter, you’re not that politically sophisticated or well-informed. Asking someone like that to make a voting decision based on complicated policy issues seems unfair and unworkable: how can we expect Joe Average to adjudicate between competing foreign policy approaches to the Middle East based on the campaign ads he happened to see?

So the idea of picking a candidate based on personality traits isn’t that bad of an idea. After all, you’re only picking a party or an issue platform secondhand — what you’re really picking in an election, first and foremost, is a person. People have far more first-hand experience judging people’s personalities than they do evaluating issue platforms, and information about the candidates’ personalities is cheap.

But therein lies the rub. All that information is so cheap because there are multiple interested parties out there desperately competing to shape the public’s mind.

The media, for example, is in the business of glueing eyeballs to screens. So the events that make it to the public are the ones that are most “newsworthy”. That’s why celebrity endorsements are valuable, why the news reports campaigns the way they do horse races, and why you’ll see every insult the campaigners exchange but never hear them going over the fine print of their economic proposals.That’s why the story of the first President Bush not knowing how to use a supermarket scanner spread, despite the fact that it never actually happened. As one journalist said, it was just too good not to be true.

And don’t forget the opposition, either. Every presidential candidate has teams dedicated to twisting the public’s perception of them. Perry’s gaffe would likely have been quickly forgotten if his opponents hadn’t made sure that it was repeated.

The most famous example of this might be Dukakis and the tank:

Fun fact: Those braking noises you heard? Listen to them again.

Tanks don’t even make those noises! Those were dubbed in!

So, in self-defense, candidates employ their own image teams. These image managers are the ones who make sure that campaign supporters don’t wear ties when their candidate is trying to look down to earth. They agonize over every word of every speech — not always what it means, but how it sounds. They ensure that the candidate’s backdrop is microprinted with their slogans — if Joe Average is only going to get that one image of the president, then it had better be a good one.5 And, of course, sometimes they put their candidate in eyeglasses.

The only reason we all noticed Perry’s attempt was that it was slightly more obvious than most. But the next time you catch yourself having feelings about this candidate or that, remember that every image you have of them is the result of a three-way (candidate, opposition and media) war between desperate teams of professionals.

And if we all kept that in mind, then maybe they wouldn’t have to wear glasses.


1. Officially, the glasses were for medical reasons.
2. You don’t get to elected office in this country without either being smart or having people to be smart for you. Debate notwithstanding.
3. The Oxford Handbook of American Elections and Political Behavior.
4. Height, Appearance.
5. A journalist once put out a TV segment critical of Ronald Reagan: negative narration over stock footage of the president. She was surprised, therefore, to get a thank-you call from Reagan’s image team. The pictures she used, you see, had looked great — and as far as they were concerned, that was all that mattered.

Debate, Week 3: Civilian Drones in the United States

Students in the summer offering of my Introduction to American Politics course were assigned to write their final paper on one of three contemporary political debates in the United States – the legalization of marijuana, access to guns, and the use of civilian drones. You can find the discussion about legalizing marijuana here and gun control here.

This week, my students discuss the use of civilian drones in the United States. When students in the class were asked in a survey where or not it is acceptable for the American government to monitor communications from American citizens, 36% agreed that this is acceptable, 53% disagreed, and 11% reported not knowing. As the responses suggest, Americans know very little about drone use, government policy, or their rights.

Heavily Regulate Drone Use

Response 1, Taylor P*

In recent decades drone use has increased dramatically. Drones have a wide variety of applications for individuals and the government such as, “environmental monitoring, tracking of livestock and wildlife, measurement of meteorological and geophysical phenomena, and observation of large-scale human constructions such as buildings, energy infrastructure such as electricity networks and gas and water pipelines, and road-, air- and sea-traffic”(Clarke 2014, 286). Although many people believe that these applications have positive impacts, others believe drone surveillance is detrimental to the privacy of people and infringes upon our Fourth Amendment rights. Some people are convinced that drones are harmful to our civil liberties by disproportionately targeting minorities and “other usual suspects” (Wright 2012,184). Others believe drones are actively hostile towards individuals. No matter which argument you agree with, more regulations need to be implemented to restrict drone use.

While the debate about drone use is ongoing, David Wright (2012) takes the stance that while drones can be useful, it is more important to provide privacy to individuals. Privacy is a major concern due to the fact that drones are targeting their surveillance upon the “already marginalized populations” to monitor their whereabouts and activities (Wright 2012, 194). According to Wright, drones do not have regulations or laws in place that effectively limit the activity of drones. The Fourth Amendment does not “protect already marginalized individuals and populations from disproportionate surveillance by Unmanned Aircraft Systems” (Wright 2012, 193). Specifically, drone surveillance has been used to single out “the poor, people of color and anti-government protesters” when monitoring large crowds, such as in drone surveillance monitored political rallies in New York and Washington D.C. (Wright 2012, 188). Wright’s stance on the position of drone use is that drones can effectively help make the United States a safer and better place; however, in order to make citizens feel safe with the use of drones, we need to regulate what drones can do to protect the privacy of individuals and keep individuals safe from discriminatory practices.  Continue reading

Debate, Week 2: What the Fight Over Guns is Really About

Students in the summer offering of my Introduction to American Politics course were assigned to write their final paper on one of three contemporary political debates in the United States – the legalization of marijuana, access to guns, and the use of civilian drones. For the next two weeks, I will post a few especially good responses from my students on each issue. You can find the discussion about legalizing marijuana here.

This week, my students discuss access to guns in the United States. When students in the class were asked in a survey which response comes closest to their views about government policy on access to guns, 43% stated that the government should make it more difficult for people to buy guns that it is now, 50% agreed that the government should keep the rules about the same, and 7% stated that the government should make it easier for people to buy guns than it is now. No one reported not knowing their views on the issue. The responses below convey just how complicated the gun issue is.

Protect Second Amendment Rights

Response 1, Samuel A*

At a time when issues such as police brutality, border control and war on terrorism headline the everyday mass media sources in the United States, another pressing issue looms in the background. That is the issue of how accessible guns should be in the United States of America. As with every pressing issue, there are critics on each side, some in support of gun control and some that do not support it. What makes this issue unique, however, is that there seems to be a majority of extremists, both in support and not in support. The majority of those that support gun control seem to want guns abolished all together in the United States while those that support guns seem to want no controls or restrictions whatsoever. Though, there is admittedly more nuance than those two extremes. Another factor that makes the issue of gun control somewhat unique is that there are many logical arguments from each side that are very difficult to ignore or argue against.  Continue reading

Debate, Week 1: Is ‘Big Marijuana’ Inevitable?

Students in the summer offering of my Introduction to American Politics course were assigned to write their final paper on one of three contemporary political debates in the United States – the legalization of marijuana, access to guns, and the use of civilian drones. For the next three weeks, I will post a few especially good responses from my students on each issue.

This week, my students discuss whether or not marijuana should be legalized for personal use in the United States. When students in the class were asked in a survey whether or not possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use should be legalized, 75% of them favored legalization, 18% opposed and 7% reported not knowing.  As you’ll see from the commentary below, there is much more nuance than these numbers suggest.

Yes, Legalize Marijuana for Personal Use

Response 1, Ashley A.*

The debate over legalization of marijuana has been the talk of many Americans in the past few years. Policy makers, law enforcement and citizens all have a unique viewpoint as to whether or not the use and possession of marijuana should be legal. Those supporting legalization believe that marijuana can be regulated and the use can be monitored to ensure safety (The New York Times, 2014). If marijuana were to be legalized, American society would see less individuals incarcerated allowing less complications for them when it came to applying for jobs, receiving education, and housing. The economy could be stimulated as a result of the legalization due to taxes and job opportunities (The New York Times, 2014). Those opposing legalization argue that its use could lead to increased drug abuse as it is considered a “gateway” drug. Others say that since there is a large market for marijuana, advertising will increase leaving more people aware of the benefits but ignorant about the possible negative effects (The New York Times, 2014). Thus, it will leave a culture of uninformed drug users and an unregulated market.

The decision to use marijuana should be up to individuals. With the right rules and regulations in place, legalizing marijuana could reduce crime rates, stimulate the economy and increase well being in American society (Caulkins, 2012). Marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug, resulting in a large black market as well (Caulkins, 2012). In fact, 52% of drug related arrests were related to marijuana (American Civil Liberties Union, 2015). If it is commercialized, those distributing the drug will be in the safety and security of a store rather than the streets reducing crime rates (Caulkins, 2012).

With individuals being incarcerated for simply possessing the drug, state governments must pay tremendous amounts to enforce the laws set in place. For example, Massachusetts would save 120.6 million every year if marijuana were legalized (Miron, 2003). Not only would states see a dramatic decrease in money spent on incarceration, but a dramatic increase in profits generated through taxation. Massachusetts would see 16.9 million dollars in revenue as a result of legalizing marijuana (Miron, 2003). In sum, federal and state governments would see a dramatic increase in revenue that could then be used for the betterment of society.  Continue reading

A Break and A Survey

Thanks to all of you who have read and followed along with my experimental attempt to make American politics more interesting and approachable. I will be taking a break from writing on this site for the summer in an attempt to evaluate and re-focus my efforts for the future. I want this site to be useful for my readers – to help you know more about American politics so that you feel capable and comfortable to engage in politics in the real world. I am not sure, however, if the format and content best allows that to happen.

In order to gather feedback from all of you, I have created a short survey. I’d greatly appreciate if you could take some time to fill it out. You could win a $25 Amazon gift-card! Entries close on Friday, July 10th. I appreciate your support and look forward to reading your feedback.

Take the Survey: Here

"Survey Question" by Robyn Lee (CC: BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“Survey Question” by Robyn Lee (CC: BY-NC-ND 2.0)