Organizations like the DePaul College Democrats encourage Millennials — young people ages 18 – 29 years old — to engage in national and local politics. Forty-six million Millennials are eligible to vote in the upcoming presidential election, according to The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. Millennials makeup 21% of the eligible voting population.
Chris Wernecke is a 20-year-old junior at DePaul University majoring in political science. He joined the DePaul College Democrats his freshman year and began his tenure as president in spring of 2012.
In this Q&A, Chris discusses key issues related to the upcoming presidential election, why the Democratic platform resonates with college students, and how the DePaul College Democrats are impacting their community.
Q. What do you think is the most important issue at stake in this presidential election?
A. Absolutely, the economy — the economy and jobs are number one. I think both campaigns have done a fantastic job in making that the central issue. However, on a personal level I think the most important issue is the direction of the country.
I think in 2010 we saw the Republican Party hijacked by extremists in the Tea Party. I hope this election is a referendum on that and we bring the Republican Party back down to earth so we can compromise, because there are issues that we can compromise on. We’ve seen hyper paralysis in the congress and nothing’s been done. I think a key to good government is compromise.
Q. What do you feel is one of the most significant disadvantages faced by the Democratic Party in this election?
A. The incumbency factor. The Romney campaign wants to make this a referendum on the Obama presidency. The Obama campaign, on the other hand, wants to make this a choice — a clear-cut distinction between us and them. I think the Obama campaign has done a fantastic job at making it a choice campaign, and the Romney campaign has done a good job of making it a referendum.
Q. If President Obama is re-elected, what do you predict the economy will look like in four years? What if Governor Romney is elected?
A. I believe, if President Obama is re-elected, the economy will continue to improve. In four years it will be the very definition of “structurally sound”. Whoever is elected in November will reap the benefits of the actions taken over the last four years. It took us awhile to get into this mess and it will understandably take a good deal of time to get out of it.
If Governor Romney is elected, I am not one to think that the United States will fall off a cliff. Governor Romney will do his best to improve the economy just as President Obama has done. The difference, however, will be his bending and buckling to the Tea Party extremists who believe compromise is a dirty word. Congress and the ability to compromise will ultimately determine the fate of the economy.
Q. How does DePaul’s status as the largest Catholic university in the nation influence its students’ political affiliations and beliefs?
A. I believe the premise of this university affects students in a multitude of ways. As a Lutheran attending the largest Catholic university in the nation, I was surprised to see that this institution does not push its views upon the student body in a forceful way. It is, rather, through the Vincentian Way that I see the most influence. Helping those who struggle to help themselves, a sense of community, a devotion to the notion that all of us, despite our diverse and differing backgrounds, stand before the eyes of God in the same light — these ideas are what I see influencing our student body.
The tricky part is then transferring that influence into the scope of politics. Some believe politics taints what I previously mentioned and do not wish to partake. Others are just apathetic to the idea of politics and choose not to partake and others use the practice of religion to the extreme in politics.
Q. How would you describe the DePaul student body’s level of interest in the presidential election?
A. From what I have seen in class and speaking with friends, the level of interest in this election is actually quite astonishing. Despite common belief, I believe my generation, and my classmates in particular, have a vested interest in these affairs. The problem is articulating this interest into a tangible view, and through that, a tangible vote.
Q. What are the DePaul College Democrats doing to increase students’ political involvement?
A. We are huge on the election this quarter for obvious reasons. We will be making trips to Ohio, and possibly Wisconsin and Iowa, to canvas a campaign for the President. Being battleground states, they are important. In terms of the DePaul community, last year we explored the idea of “Dems 101” meetings where we would educate the student body on a given issue from the democratic standpoint, the history of the democratic party, and how we’ve evolved on the issue.
It wasn’t until this election cycle that the Democrat party included gay marriage as part of their platform. Talking about the evolution of that is key, and I think DePaul students are interested in hearing that.
Q. Student debt is at an all-time high. Has this come up as a hot topic among DePaul students?
A. Yeah, a lot. There’s an anti-capitalist coalition on campus. While I don’t agree with what they say, a big issue is student tuition and they’re absolutely right. We go to a private university where the federal government role is minimal at best, but from what I’ve heard from meetings and in class, it’s a huge issue.
Q. How will the October debates influence DePaul students’ votes?
A. Like most Americans, I believe college students know who they are voting for by now. The debates will only serve to sure-up these votes and draw clear lines in the sand. For the rare undecided college voter, the debates will serve as a clear distinction between the two tickets. Whoever can best present their ideas will draw these undecideds to them.
Q. How will DePaul students be casting their votes in this election?
A. From what I’ve heard, people are going to mail in their ballots. I live in the suburbs. I will be going home to vote on Election Day because I’m a nerd and a romantic in that sense, but otherwise I’ve heard people are going to vote absentee.
Q. Are the DePaul College Democrats involved in any local-level politics?
A. In any other year, the DePaul College Democrats are heavily vested in local politics. We have a close relationship with Alderwoman Michelle Smith and other ward leaders. We have had candidates and leaders from the suburbs to the water reclamation district come in and talk with us. This year, however, our main focus and drive is on the national campaign.
Q. Why do you and fellow members of the DePaul College Democrats identify with the Democratic Party?
A. We identify with the Democratic Party because the values, ideas and policies portrayed in the Democratic Platform speak to us in a way that others do not. We are the Democratic Platform — it is ours to build and promote for generations to come.