When Sixth Former Son Nguyen arrived in Millville in 2015, the push for the 2016 presidential election was in full swing in New Hampshire. As home to the first-in-the-nation primary, candidates swarm the Granite State for months to meet voters. “It was American politics on steroids,” recalled Nguyen.
Flash forward three years, and Nguyen, a student from the Czech Republic, is getting hands-on experience in the mechanisms of American politics through the humanities elective, Practical Politics. The course, taught by Chris Carter, the Richard F. Davis Chair in Humanities, brings students through the democratic process from researching super PACs and political platforms, to experience on the ground working with local campaigns.
“I chose to campaign for the Republicans even though I don't identify as one,” explained Nguyen. “I did it to learn about the process. It is the perfect example of grassroots campaigning.”
He added, “It’s my favorite class that I’ve taken.”
In the weeks leading up to the midterm elections on November 6, students knocked on doors and made phone calls as volunteers with the state Democratic and Republican parties. While interacting with the electorate, students also interfaced with potential candidates for the 2020 presidential election, including U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Sen. Jeff Merkley.
This work in the field supports the research they conduct back in the classroom. The students follow current events and navigate the intricate points of campaigning through mock elections in which they create a candidate and craft strategies for policy, finance, and the media. They also give a School-wide presentation in Chapel to inform the School community about critical races in New Hampshire, and the country.
Fourth Former Alexander Rowley has been knocking on doors for the Republicans. The process has been positive, but one voter did slam a door in his face and declared her support for the other party. “It was so unexpected. I found it hilarious,” remembered Rowley.
Growing up in New Hampshire, Sixth Former Abbe Riffle is familiar with the state's role in national politics but noted the experience has been eye-opening. "One person told us they had given up on voting," said Riffle of canvassing with the Democrats.
The course also carries a service-learning component, earning students community outreach hours for their civic work in local communities. It was added incentive for Riffle. "I wanted to learn more about the political process, and it's a cool way to do community service," she said.