Two years ago, Tamar Katz was a member of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Republican Club. In 2012, she voted for presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Fast forward to 2016: Katz plans to cast her ballot for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Why the switch?
“She has the best policies — there’s simply no denying it,” said Katz. “How lucky am I to have a candidate who supports the social and domestic policies that I really do value?”
But many women at UMass Amherst who plan on voting Democratic in the primaries are split between two candidates, much like the majority of Democrats in the country; according to a national poll by Real Clear Politics, Hillary Clinton is leading Bernie Sanders 49.6 to 40 as of Feb. 28.
Carson McGrath, 21, sides with Sanders on issues like campaign funding, education reform and income inequality.
“To me, Bernie is more authentic,” said McGrath. “He looks like any other president, but looks aren’t everything.”
McGrath, an English and journalism major, is a member of the UMass for Bernie student group and got involved with Sanders’s campaign as an intern last December. For three weeks, she made phone calls from her apartment and was up at 4 a.m. on the day of the New Hampshire primary in Keene, N.H., putting pamphlets on doors and canvassing.
“If we want change, we need to make sacrifices,” McGrath said.
On the other side is Rachel Pollak, a 21-year-old communications major who spent her free time this summer working at Clinton’s campaign headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y. Pollak had interned in the city and worked at phone banks at night and on the weekends.
“I really do stand by her,” Pollak said. “Her economic policy is steadfast.”
Katz agreed with Pollak’s rationality, and explained that her first requirement when selecting a candidate is foreign policy.
“Being a Middle Eastern studies and finance major has given me a unique perspective on the election in general, because you don’t just hear these topics being discussed in a debate,” Katz said. “They’re something I’ve been learning about in an academic setting for the past three years. [Clinton] understands [Syria], a nuanced conflict, in a way that Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders do not.”
Pollak and Katz both considered Clinton a more experienced candidate, citing her work with the Children’s Defense Fund after law school and her most recent actions as Secretary of State.
And yet, there are women at UMass who said they side with Sanders for the same reason: changes to foreign policy.
Anya Conti, 20, said that she “mostly agrees” with Sanders’s foreign policy. In October, the sophomore economics and math major volunteered at a Sanders rally in Springfield and became involved with UMass for Bernie shortly after.
“Hearing him speak… made me want to work harder to get him elected,” said Conti.
Sanders’s focus on equality in the United States resonates with her, she said.
“If you fix [inequality], so many other issues don’t become as important.”
As for Clinton, Conti said she is “not sure [she] fully [trusts] her politically,” adding that Clinton supported the Iraq war.
Sanders has come under fire in recent months because some potential voters find his “political revolution” unrealistic. In January, The Washington Post published an op-ed by Stephen Stromberg, who said that it is “increasingly worrying” to see Democrats standing by Sanders.
Though Conti admitted that Sanders will probably be unable to accomplish all of his goals, she said that he is taking “a step in the right direction.”
The one thing all four women agreed on? Their vote won’t be influenced by a candidate’s gender.
“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” said Madeline Albright when introducing Clinton at an event in New Hampshire on Feb. 6.
“As a female, I do support [Clinton] and I will stand by her,” said McGrath. “But I’m going to make the decision I want to make.”
Though Pollak supports Clinton and considers herself a feminist, she doesn’t think Albright speaks for the candidate; Katz agreed.
“This candidacy is the embodiment of our mothers’ and grandmothers’ dreams, but that by no means is going to be the thing that gets the younger generation’s support,” Katz said.
On Feb. 5, renowned feminist Gloria Steinem told Real Time host Bill Maher that young women are siding with Sanders because “the boys are with Bernie.”
Emmi Beuger, freshman international relations and human rights major, completely disagreed.
From a conservative town in Pennsylvania, Beuger said she hadn’t connected with anyone who held the same views as she did until she came to college. She joined UMass for Bernie in the fall, and said she will vote for Sanders because she agrees with his stances on gun control, criminal justice, healthcare and free higher education — not because of “the boys.”
“Hillary is not the woman I want representing me,” Beuger said. “I really support Bernie for seeing everyone as an individual… and he’s stuck with his constituents, which I really respect.”
And, Beuger added, the UMass for Bernie group on campus is split equally when it comes to gender.
“I’m proud of how far [Sanders] has come,” said Beuger, mentioning how “ecstatic” she was after the presidential candidate’s victory in New Hampshire.
For Pollak, a vote for Clinton has nothing to do with gender, and is instead based on a culmination of all the work she has done for the campaign.
“[Clinton] takes voices who go unheard and turns them into policy… If she’s fighting for these things now, she will continue to,” Pollak said.
Today, March 1, Massachusetts voters head to the polls to cast their ballots for the presidential candidate hopefuls. And, according to Katz, that’s the most important thing.
“If you don’t vote, you don’t get an opinion. I can volunteer and make calls and donate money, and I will do all of that, but at the end of the day, my vote is what’s most important to me.”
Stephanie Murray can be reached at [email protected]