Article Contributed by PhD Candidate, Lauren Ratliff Santoro
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 Ohio State 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.