Liberal ideas are increasingly resonating more with the current generation of college students, a fact which is changing the fortunes of political clubs at St. Lawrence University. With membership at an all-time low and no clear path forward, St. Lawrence Republicans (SLU Republicans) is on the verge of collapse, while membership to the St. Lawrence Democrats (SLU Dems) is growing.
Over the past few years, SLU Dems has been expanding in size. “SLU Dems has grown significantly since my first year here. We currently have about a dozen regular members, compared to about six or eight my freshmen year,” said Luke Evans ‘17, current President of SLU Dems. “We are holding more events now than we ever have and are giving more people many more opportunities to get involved.”
Rising interest in SLU Dems reflects how many issues central to the Democratic party resonate with young voters. “From what I’ve seen, liberal ideas among our generation are fairly popular or widely acknowledged to have validity,” said Claire Mendes ‘18, the North Country Regional Chair for College Democrats of New York. This explains why liberal candidates like Bernie Sanders poll very high among young voters.
The growth of SLU Dems is directly contrasted by the decline of SLU Republicans. The conservative club currently has no members, outside of the club president. “SLU Republicans had about 25 members [when I was a Freshman], and was a fairly active organization,” said Emery Younger ‘17, former president of SLU Dems. However, “Over the past few years, SLU Republicans have gradually fizzled down while SLU Dems has experienced an exponential rise.” He noted unstable leadership and little activity as culprits for the club’s waning membership.
Ryan Christopher Di Mezzo ‘18, the current president of SLU Republicans offered another perspective. “I think the club struggles for membership because, like at a national level, the GOP is often the loudest and most profound but when it comes time to act, the numbers are not great.”
Di Mezzo also pointed out the tension in the Republican party between those who are fiscally conservative but socially liberal and the more conservative party establishment. “I would say that students on this campus place social liberalism above fiscal conservatism on their list of political priorities. It is for that reason that I believe the SLU Republicans are struggling. Many see the GOP as a socially conservative group, and by in large that is true.”
The former president of SLU Dems offered a similar perspective. “Recently I think that SLU Republicans has faced a bit of a crisis because while many students may self-identify as conservative, they feel embarrassed to be fully associated with the harsh rhetoric of the national Republican Party,” said Younger.
Some students who identify as conservative echo this sentiment. “I feel like the Republican party is a shitty party in general because they focus on a lot of social issues that shouldn’t matter,” said Jeremy Sylvain ‘18, who identifies as fiscally conservative but socially liberal.
Another student who identified as a libertarian went a bit further. “I think the GOP nationally focuses on social issues because it thinks it can win with those,” said Tristan Anderson ‘19. “But I think those bills and ideas are wrong and I honestly don’t know why anyone would think that it’s worthwhile to implement them.” Both Sylvain and Anderson said they would likely not join SLU Republicans in the future.
College Republicans of New York, a loose affiliation of conservative clubs at schools around New York, did not respond to multiple requests for a statement.
The struggles afflicting the SLU Republican club mirror the issues plaguing the Republican party. Donald Drumpf, the current frontrunner, champions socially conservative ideals that largely turn off young voters. A recent poll by CNN indicated that Drumpf’s support among young voters is historically low, with only 25 percent of respondents favoring Drumpf over Clinton in a the general election.
Meanwhile, the party establishment is scrambling to find a way to keep Drumpf from securing the nomination. If Drumpf fails to secure the nomination by the Republican National Convention in July, many believe he will not be the Republican candidate—even if he has the most popular support. This discord between the party base, the party establishment and the very candidates running illustrates the uncertain future of the Republican party.
“Next semester I will be taking a step back from SLU Republicans and I’m not sure if the club will continue to function,” said Di Mezzo. “Political activism on campus often relates to social issues, many of which I take a liberal stance on,” he continued, offering a telling insight into the decline of traditional conservatism among younger voters.