Political campaigning on college campuses – the good, the bad, and the ugly

Home » Political campaigning on college campuses – the good, the bad, and the ugly

For the past few years, college campuses have been ground zero for political campaigning. Candidates are constantly visiting schools to speak with students and encourage them to register to vote. But what happens when a candidate shows up who doesn’t really know much about campus life? Or worse, someone who is blatantly offensive and hateful? This article will explore the ins and outs of political campaigning on college campuses –the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The need for college campuses to have a say in the political process

College campuses have been political battlegrounds for a while–candidates of all political stripes show up to the campaign and give speeches in the hopes of winning over student voters. They are battlegrounds for political campaigns because the college-aged demographic can be a powerful voting bloc. In fact, over 60% of 18 to 29-year-olds voted in the 2016 presidential election–the highest turnout among any age group. College campuses need their input on political matters because these young people will be voting in elections now and when it really counts (when they’re older). They should not be disenfranchised just because they happen to attend school away from home.

Why it is important for colleges to be involved with politics

It’s important for colleges to be involved with political campaigns because college students are the future of the nation. They will become voters in a few years and they should have their voices heard now when it matters most. College campuses need these young people’s input on political issues since they’re more likely than not going to be voting in elections (particularly local elections) once they graduate from college. Furthermore, many of them will stay close to where they went to school after graduation; this means that institutions such as universities could play an influential role in any political decisions made by the government at the state or national level.


Examples of successful campaigns on college campuses

  • Lead by the University of Iowa Student Government, a successful political campaign occurred in which they campaigned for Young Americans Elect. They were able to reach more than 20% of undergraduate students and nearly 40% of graduate students
  • In February 2013, President Obama visited campuses with student groups such as Interfaith Youth Core at Purdue University where he spoke about his support for same sex marriage
  • The 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made an appearance on George Washington’s campus wearing a suit that Ohio State students nicknamed “the business attire” but it wasn’t well received because GW is a very liberal school

What can we learn from these examples?

It turns out not all colleges have equal political leanings – there are some schools where candidates will be welcomed with open arms and others that will be met with political resistance.

What should political candidates know about campaigning on college campuses?

  • College students are a key demographic in any political campaign
  • They’re looking for authenticity from politicians who come to their campus–they want someone who understands them, not just panders to the audience
  • Candidates need to think carefully before speaking or bringing up sensitive topics like abortion rights because it may alienate portions of this generation’s voting population

Why is political campaigning important for colleges?

It helps voters stay informed which can lead to more engaged citizens and an increased turnout at polls – these efforts have already been successful in Iowa during its last presidential race. A well-thought-out plan could help increase voter turnout by as much as four percent.

College is often an undecided voter’s first political campaign experience, so it can be a great time to shape their opinions. The age at which people are eligible to vote is 18, but many of them haven’t been exposed enough in school or outside thereof before that point since it’s not a requirement until then and most don’t start paying attention until they’re ready for college themselves. College can be an enlightening journey into politics as these young adults explore all sides without feeling pressured by any one party line just yet; this means you may see some surprising outcomes when your own children cast their ballots someday!


There are pros and cons to campaigning on college campuses

  • It helps voters stay informed which can lead to more engaged citizens and an increased turnout at polls but there are some drawbacks that should also be considered, including the risk of offending a large portion of potential voters
  • Candidate visits have seen mixed results when compared with other methods such as social media outreach; candidates who visit campus increase engagement and excitement about the election among students and young voters but they usually don’t have as much of an impact among the general population
  • College campuses are a political hotspot, so candidates should be prepared to navigate new territory when visiting these institutions.
  • Candidates need to think carefully before speaking or bringing up sensitive topics like abortion rights because it may alienate portions of this generation’s voting population
  • There are pros and cons for campaigning on college campuses; though there is no one clear-cut answer, finding ways to reach all types of voters will help narrow down which type of outreach might work best with any given constituency
  • No political campaign can afford to ignore the influence that colleges hold over their constituents’ political views. College students vote at higher rates than younger adults.

Some common misconceptions about student involvement and their impact on-campus culture

Political campaigning on college campuses has traditionally been one of the most effective ways for candidates to get their message across because it makes them seem more relatable. This works particularly well when they’re able to make an impression by attending events such as “lunch in the quad” or a student government meeting–those small moments where personal connections can be made with potential voters who may have otherwise felt ignored from afar.

However, some common misconceptions about student involvement and its impact on campus culture are that there are too many political ads all over campus knocking out any sense of community; political campaigns don’t speak to students’ needs, and that the campus environment is hostile for conservatives.

In reality, political ads are usually seen only on bulletin boards or around dorm entrances; political campaigns typically have a designated student representative from their organization who takes care of any questions about what they’re doing in order to make sure that it’s not just an ad dump; and as long as political candidates don’t use rhetoric with hateful messages, they should be safe going toe-to-toe with opposing viewpoints without fear of being shouted down by other classmates.

The bottom line

while there may be some downsides to college campuses being so heavily involved in politics, overall this strategy has been very effective – which means you should be prepared to see a lot more of it in the future.


How you can students get started as an activist or campaigner at your school?

The first thing students can do is get a political action committee (PAC) registered. This will allow their group to fundraise on campus for candidates and causes, bring political speakers in from off-campus, or even organize events like voter registration drives at the student center. If there’s already an established political club that works with student’s interests–say College Democrats or Republicans–they could always reach out to them and see how they can help make campaigning happen for them!

If this sounds intimidating but still something you’re interested in doing, don’t worry too much about it. You might be able to work with other students who are involved in politics by volunteering as a campaign intern off-campus through organizations like Rock the Vote. Or if you’re looking for a way to get political without leaving campus, you could always start by signing up as an intern with the political party of your choice.


The need for college campuses to have a say in the political process is an important one. College students are often first-time voters and can provide valuable insight into what issues matter most to them, so it’s essential that they be given the opportunity to voice their opinions — both at school and nationally. Not only does this allow colleges themselves to remain relevant in today’s world, but also provides many benefits for those on campus as well. For example, campaigns held on college campuses historically tend to drive higher voter turnout among young people than elsewhere – which has traditionally been lower than other demographics.



There are pros and cons of campaigning on college campuses; some common misconceptions about student involvement with politics include disruptions in academic life, some students don’t want others from different backgrounds speaking up about what they believe in because they might not agree with them. But these common misconceptions only show the importance of student activists/campaigners at college campuses.

For further reading check Campaigns and Elections Paperback on Amazon!

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