Students at Sonoma State University are going beyond Hillary and Trump in their exploration of this year's election. Two public viewing parties are being held on campus as students and the community watch the results roll in on November 8.
A political science class and the student newspaper are hosting a joint viewing party in International Hall 104 beginning at 7 p.m., with campus and outside experts in politics and journalism appearing in-person or via Skype throughout the evening. Another viewing party begins at 8 p.m. on the outdoor big screen in Seawolf Plaza, hosted by SSU's student government organization and other on-campus groups.
"We'll make it fun, it will be a nice evening," says Sonoma State University Political Science Professor Richard Hertz, who is hosting the party with his political science class. "It's going to be very low-key."
He had to expand his two-unit course, "2016 Election - An In-Depth Look," to 59 students -- nearly double the average class size at the University -- after an large number of students expressed interest.
Edwin Tran, 19, registered to vote in October and is looking forward to voting in his first election on November 8. He says this class piqued his interest in politics, and he's excited to attend the viewing parties with his classmates. "I didn't really follow politics before, but now I will probably follow it more in the future," he says.
Student interest was stronger than in previous years, says Hertz, who is also a professional pollster and expert on California campaign financing. "The first time in my whole career I got to watch election returns with students was this year, with the Iowa caucuses."
Many students were energized by the Bernie Sanders campaign, and some of that energy remained even after the Vermont senator conceded to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in the presidential race. "Who would have thought that Millennials would be into the oldest candidate in the race?" says Hertz with a laugh. "Many are not big Hillary fans," he added, "But I think they're scared of Trump."
Though their favorite candidate may be out of the running, Millennials still have been a powerful political voice in the past few years. "They have already started moving public opinion on issues like marijuana and same sex marriage," says Hertz. "I told them that I've been doing polls for 35 years and I've never seen public opinion change so fast as they have on those things."
With a little more than a week before the election, Tran was still undecided in the presidential race. But he's also looking forward to the local and state propositions and races. "Those are more connected with people and things I see more often," he says.
With so much animosity in politics this year, Hertz has been impressed with the respectful discourse and strong opinions expressed in his class. "It's just been a really interesting time," says Hertz. "The message to students has been, Don't wait for someone to come along and change from the top, it just doesn't work that way. If you want change you have to be part of it."
Hertz is teaming up with SSU's student newspaper, the Star, on a student poll about the election. Students can take the poll here.
Even though the New York Times shows Hillary Clinton with a 90 percent chance of winning, Hertz isn't comfortable predicting the outcome of this year's unprecedented election. "If I told you I had it all figured out, Pinocchio would look well proportioned," he says. But he is certain of one thing: "This class has been a lot of fun."
For more information on the election, see the Sonoma State University Political Science Department's Election Resource Center. The site includes a comprehensive list of the largest contributors both for and against all of California's 17 propositions, compiled by Hertz through a partnership with the Sacramento Bee.