The BYU College Democrats Club is on a quest to reduce political apathy as well as bipartisan imbalance on the BYU campus.
A 2002 Gallup poll listed Utah as the second most Republican state in the U.S., with nearly 64 percent of the population classifying themselves as Republican and approximately 28 percent as Democratic. According to political science professor Richard Davis, and in the eyes of most BYU students, these political trends reflect the state of the BYU campus today.
“Many students are from Utah or the Intermountain West, which tends to be Republican,” Davis told the Universe in an email. “Also, most are middle and upper middle class, which is Republican as well.”
But despite the high density of Republicans both at BYU and throughout the state of Utah, Democratic students at BYU say they don’t feel like the “underdog” at all. The students who really fall behind are the ones apathetic toward discovering their personal political views, according to members of the BYU College Democrats Club.
BYU College Democrats communications director Evan Woods, a junior from New Jersey studying public health, said it can be hard for BYU students who are living away from home to be politically involved. Woods said many students at BYU don’t affiliate with any specific party because they are unaware of ongoings in national and local politics, but Woods said students can overcome this by engaging in political discussions here on campus.
In November, the BYU College Democrats will host its annual “Lean Left” forum, where students can meet to discuss political issues across a wide spectrum. Woods said this is a good opportunity for BYU students to see that many of their ideas and passions actually align with Democratic ideals, despite what they may have assumed.
Woods said he wants all students — Republicans and Democrats alike — to work together to formulate the best ideas about bettering society rather than focusing only on “winners” and “losers.” Woods said students should remember that there are many topics aside from the “hot button” issues of gay marriage and abortion that students should be aware of, such as varying policies on education, healthcare and infrastructure.
“We’re all human. We’re all in this together. We all have the same general goals. We all want to be happy. We all want to live a comfortable life. We want to be safe,” Woods said. “And by working together, students can make a difference in the political sphere.”
BYU College Republicans Club member Gunnar Thorderson, a junior studying economics, echoed Woods’ plea for political engagement among college students. “Now is the best time for students to get involved in politics. The young people have a strong impact nationally. We can change the parties to stand up for the issues that we care about,” said Thorderson.
Both Thorderson and Woods encouraged students to attend the annual Democratic versus Republican debate hosted by both clubs, which is also in November 2015.
These events were generated in hopes to increase political discourse on campus to allow students an opportunity to formulate their own political opinions rather than accepting the political affiliations they were raised with, whether conservative or liberal.
BYU students from all majors, classes and backgrounds are invited to join activities hosted by the the BYU College Democrats. The club’s Facebook page states the club’s goal is to “influence political discourse on campus by offering well-reasoned left-of-center perspectives (and) help BYU students and those in the Provo community broaden their political horizons and become more politically involved.”
Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encourage members to participate in political discussions and be actively involved in political affairs.
“Principles compatible with the gospel are found in the platforms of all major political parties,” says an official statement on Mormon.org, “While the Church does not endorse political candidates, platforms, or parties, members are urged to be full participants in political, governmental, and community affairs.”
Former college Democrats club president Nicole Pavez, a senior from New York studying political science and Latin American studies who joined the BYU College Democrats during her freshman year, said the club has been a great place for her to enjoy conversations with like-minded people, as well as hear a wide range of political views.
“It is important to have differences. I am a big proponent of bipartisanship,” Pavez said, “But it’s important that we work together to better society rather than shifting apart.”
Pavez encouraged all students to engage daily in nondiscriminatory political dialogue in order to bridge gaps between political ideologies for the betterment of society. “It will help you to have a different perspective and a better understanding of the world around you,” Pavez said.