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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, December 9, 2023

Votes that count: Tufts students from swing states

Swing state voters will potentially decide control of the Senate in 2023.

Midterms are upon us, and while most Tufts students — and most Americans — come from solidly Democratic or Republican states, the swing state voters on campus will have a disproportionate impact this Tuesday. Out of the 6,676 undergraduates at Tufts in fall of 2021, 524 were from states where the margin of victory was less than 5% in the 2020 presidential election — about 8% of the student population. 

Sam Brenner is a sophomore majoring in international relations from Brookhaven, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta. Georgia has become a swing state recently, with Democrats narrowly voting blue in the presidential election and both Senate races in 2020. Brenner’s hometown has followed the statewide trend.

“My precinct specifically voted for McCain, Romney, Clinton and Biden,” Brenner said. “I'm from a disproportionately white, disproportionately well-educated part of Atlanta. So it's essentially a lot of people who, probably 10 years ago, would perceive themselves as very partisan Republicans that were extremely turned off by the Trump era and have become extremely Democratic.”

The most competitive statewide race in Georgia this election season is between the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the incumbent, and Herschel Walker. Warnock won his seat in the 2020 special election after the previously elected senator resigned. According to Brenner, many people have a positive impression of Warnock.

“Warnock is … also an extremely strong candidate, people just dig his vibe,” Brenner said. “He has this goofy pastor energy that I think a lot of people, especially in highly educated parts of Atlanta, find relatable and fun.” 

Brenner’s view of Warnock is polar opposite to his view of Walker.

“Herschel Walker is probably the worst possible candidate Republicans could have possibly found for the state of Georgia,” he said. “He is just categorically insane. It's worse if you live in Georgia because you have to deal with all of his scandals on the local news every night.” 

Although Walker opposes abortion politically, he has allegedly paid for multiple of his ex-partners’ abortions. However, Brenner is not sure that these allegations will hurt him electorally.

“The Republican base really doesn't care about the morality of their candidates,” he said. “They just care that their candidates are going to sign off on the judges and the policies that they want. …  They'll go with someone who's paid for 90 abortions if it's going to be someone who's going to vote to confirm the next right-wing Supreme Court justice,” Brenner said.

Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, is also up for election this midterm. Stacey Abrams is challenging him for a second time after he beat her in the 2018 gubernatorial election. Kemp currently has a significant lead in the polls. Brenner believes that voters view Kemp as more moderate than he actually is.

“He's received this ‘moderate aura’ that he doesn't really deserve because of the fact that he refused to literally commit a crime in 2020 by not certifying the Georgia election results, even though … he's the second or third most conservative governor in the country, despite presiding over a state that in 2020 was literally 50-50,” Brenner said.

Kemp is polling significantly ahead of Walker, indicating that split-ticket voters may decide this election in Georgia. Brenner knows people who may split their vote because of the contrast between Walker and Kemp.

“A lot of my friends’ parents who I know who are more on the conservative side, who really like Kemp, will be voting for him and potentially Warnock just because they can't stand how bad of a character Herschel Walker is,” Brenner said.

While the Senate race is neck-and-neck and Abrams is significantly behind in the gubernatorial race, Democrats in Georgia have reason for optimism if past trends continue. Brenner explained that Democrats have defied nationwide trends in Georgia in recent election cycles.

“Georgia has moved to the left, even in environments where the country moved to the right,” he explained. 

While Georgia has been consistently moving to the left, nearby North Carolina has remained just out of reach for Democrats in most recent elections. The state’s governor, Roy Cooper, is a Democrat.

Lillian McKeever is a first-year from Davidson, N.C., a suburb of Charlotte. Davidson is a college town that divides the Charlotte area from the surrounding rural regions.

McKeever became involved in political action after the initial COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020.

“I was at home, and I had nothing to do,”  McKeever said. “My grandma, who lives about a mile and a half from me, was very involved in local politics. And she said, ‘You have no reason to not get involved. You have nothing to do.’”

In recent years, Republicans have just barely won in North Carolina; Trump defeated Biden there by about 1.3% in 2020. McKeever explained that the state’s competitiveness has motivated her to become more engaged.

“I don't think I would have gotten involved in the California or the New York state Democratic Party because the stakes just aren't the same. And so I think one of the reasons I got involved was because there were such high stakes and because I knew that with the state and the local elections, those policies would affect me and would affect my family, and that truly is a driving force for action,” McKeever said. 

This election, McKeever believes abortion may galvanize voters who in the past may have been less enthusiastic to vote. 

“My town is not the most civically minded all the time. We're kind of like, ‘We're a quiet, suburban little place,’” McKeever said. “[But] my parents were telling me they went to a reproductive rights rally in my town last week. We went to a march as soon as Roe v. Wade was overturned, there was a massive protest. … I think it's engaging a lot of people who wouldn't have been civically engaged before.”

In North Carolina, the battle for abortion rights is being fought at the state level.

“We have a Democratic governor, who has right now been vetoing all of the abortion bans that have been going through the North Carolina State House and State Senate. … But right now, it's really bad, because it’s really close to a [Republican] supermajority [in the state legislature],” McKeever said. 

Social issues are also an important factor in Florida this election.

Gigi Copeland is a sophomore studying international relations. She is from Jensen Beach, Fla. — a small town about an hour from Palm Beach that votes overwhelmingly Republican.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, the incumbent, is currently facing off against Charlie Christ, who was governor from 2007–2011. DeSantis is currently leading by a large margin in the polls. However, according to Copeland, some moderates have been turned off by his positions on social issues.

“I think the more conservative Republicans will definitely just stick with DeSantis,” Copeland said. “But for more moderates, like my dad, for example, he's a moderate Republican, and I convinced him to vote for Charlie Crist. Because Ron DeSantis just made himself the conservative morality police.” 

Autumn Steltzer is a senior studying sociology. She is from a predominantly blue suburb of Milwaukee, Wis. Abortion is also a key issue in her state for women across the political spectrum, but she isn’t confident it will affect people’s votes.

“A lot of people are really upset about abortion within the state of Wisconsin, and a lot of conservatives are very upset, [including] conservative women.” Stelzer said. “But they're not … single issue voters. So even though young conservative women are very, very upset about Roe in Wisconsin, they won't change their political affiliations.” 

Democrats need voters to turn out for issues like abortion to win the Wisconsin Senate race. Sen. Ron Johnson, the incumbent Republican, is facing off against Mandela Barnes, who is currently trailing in the polls. Stelzer isn’t confident in his chances.

“I think red voters in Wisconsin really rally around their causes and have a high voter turnout,” she said. “And I think sadly, I wouldn't be that surprised if he [Barnes] loses on election day.”

As a resident of a swing state, Stelzer directly sees the effect of her vote and the votes of those around her. 

“Living in Milwaukee and knowing that low voter turnout in that area literally [led] to Ron Johnson being in the Senate for [years,] it's really important that I'm casting my absentee ballot,” Stelzer said. “It really does make a difference. And I wish some people would sort of grasp that a little bit more. … It's important, especially in swing states like Wisconsin.”