All the President’s Men: On Politics and Princeton Part IV

Princeton, like any other educational institution, has a student government; it is called Princeton Undergraduate Student Government or USG for short. The student government is charged with the responsibility of being the primary voice for undergraduates, running the school’s largest social events, and implementing changes to University policy.

USG is divided into two parts. The first part is class government. I already commented on class elections in a previous post. Class government runs social events and organizes reunions after graduation. The second part is the Senate; it deals with the real meat and potatoes of student government. Traditionally the Senate allocates funding to clubs, passes resolutions, and plans lawnparties each semester among other things. It is composed of the student body president, vice president, executive officers, committee chairs, ten U-Councilors, and six class senators (two per class).

Several weeks ago, I decided to run for one of the class senator positions. After filing the required paperwork, I was officially on the ballot. Eleven candidates were running for two positions.

In addition to electing USG officials, students also had the opportunity to vote on a referendum mandating the Senate to create a committee that works with the Interclub Council to collect demographic information from the eating clubs. This was an interesting proposition because the eating clubs are technically not affiliated with Princeton. The referendum does not legally obligate them to release this information even if it passed.

Campaigning began on Monday, November 28 at noon and concluded on Wednesday, December 7. When the clock struck twelve on the twenty-eighth, the Class of 2020 Facebook page was almost immediately flooded with campaign announcements. I posted some messages of my own in the following days.

Mixtapes and music videos also frequently appeared the page. I refused to partake in this for two reasons. First, I refused to turn the election into an episode of “Princeton’s Got Talent,” although that is ultimately what it became. Second, things that happen at Princeton do not stay at Princeton. In the very small chance that I run for a real political office in the future, I do not want a silly tape from the past reemerging at the wrong time.

Now that we live in a world dominated by social media, most USG campaigning occurred on Facebook. I could already tell by the second day who would win the class senator election based on the likes of various posts.

I was surprised by the dearth of posters on campus. Rachel Yee, a candidate for president, and I were the only ones who seriously used this strategy.

I spent two hours every night for five days going door-to-door campaigning. It was a fascinating process. I met with over 200 students across the University. During this time, I listened to their beliefs, concerns, and desires to transform Princeton. As far as I know, none of the other senator candidates went door-to-door.

When I knocked on someone’s door, I would receive one of four responses:

  1. They told me that they were busy and asked for me to make my message short.
  2. They enthusiastically opened the door and thanked me for taking the time to talk to them.
  3. They tiptoed up to the door, looked out the peephole, tiptoed back to their bed and then pretend that they were not there.
  4. They would open the door, listen to me for ~15 seconds, pull out their phone and then proceed to look at Facebook until I left. (Ouch! That stung.)

Fortunately, most students greeted me in the second manner, but there was enough of the third and fourth for it to become noticeable. I am also fairly certain that some people texted a warning to their friends to not open their doors when I came by.

On Thursday evening, I made predictions for the outcome of the elections. Here they are a few of them along with the actual results:

  • The referendum would fail. (Incorrect, it passed with an overwhelming majority)
  • President- Rachel Yee (Incorrect, Myesha Jemison)
  • Class of 2020 Senators- June Philippe, Nate Lambert (Correct)

My defeat did not come as a surprise on Friday morning. The real political upset was in the presidential race. Yee was expected to win greatly. The Daily Princetonian endorsed her, and she placed campaign posters everywhere. You couldn’t walk more than ten feet on campus without seeing “Yee for USG” plastered on a wall, lamp post, or bulletin board. Yee dominated the votes in all of the classes except for one. Alas, seniors—like senior citizens—hold much influence in school-wide elections. They voted for Jemison nearly 2:1 over Yee, and this tipped her over the edge.

A few factual observations on the class senator election results:

  • The top three candidates were all from Forbes College.
  • The third place candidate only made two Facebook posts for her campaign.
  • A number of candidates only made one post announcing their candidacy and then quit campaigning.

Unfortunately, this election didn’t allow me to showcase my strongest campaigning skill: speeches. Perhaps it will be useful in a future election.

The most revealing aspect of the USG elections in general was the power of various social networks behind the scenes. Clubs, classes, sports, and summer programs like study abroad or the Freshman Scholars Institute all play a role in determining for which candidate people will vote.

Even though I lost, I learned a number of lessons from this experience. They included:

  • How to run a campaign.
  • Realizing the importance of social media in future campaigns. Human interaction simply does not mean as much to my generation as it has to those of the past. People are no longer going to vote for people who run the best campaign (e.g.- Yee).
  • How to sell a message in a minute or less to complete strangers.

I’m not quite sure where I’ll go from here. I may run for U-Councilor in the spring. This position is like an at-large class senator position; the school elects ten of them. Senator Ted Cruz ’92 held this office when he was at Princeton two decades ago. I do know that, because of my impending writing seminar, I will have less time to campaign in the spring than I did for this election.

Whatever I choose to do, I am sure that Princeton will keep me busy.

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UPDATE 12/16/2016- The results of the run-off election were held, and a freshman beat a seasoned sophomore candidate. This came as a surprise to me because the freshman did not show any signs of campaigning beyond making an introduction statement on Facebook. I officially do not know how college elections work.

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