Oh, Election Day. Or, in 2020, election week? Whatever it is, it’s my favorite time of the year. As a college student majoring in politics and journalism, election season practically runs my entire world. It’s hard to believe that there was a time where I didn’t spend at least a few hours every day consuming political news, but the truth is that I wasn’t always this way.
Confession time: as a kid, I hated history classes.
I know, I’ve also never heard of a politics major who didn’t love history in high school, but here I am. My dislike of history classes wasn’t because I found American history boring; I just felt like I was constantly reading the same stories and memorizing the same facts year after year. Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President. Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic in 1492. Henry Ford invented the assembly line. That’s all great but other than the fact that “those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it,” as all my history teachers loved to proclaim, how did any of it affect me now?
As I progressed through high school, I became more aware of social and policy issues from LGBT rights to gun control. In just the four years I spent in high school, same-sex marriage was legalized, Donald Trump became president and countless school and mass shootings occurred. Full disclosure: at the time, most of my information on these topics came from social media, but I learned all about them nonetheless.
Like most people my age, the 2016 election marked the first time I truly paid attention to politics. After all the national events that occurred while I was coming of age, I was angry and frustrated that at 16 years old, I couldn’t vote. I remember falling asleep early the night of the election and waking up at 3 a.m. to the results.
Soon enough, 2018 rolled around and I finally had the chance to vote for the first time. I mailed off my Illinois absentee ballot and for the first time, I finally felt like I was making the slightest difference in the world.
Voting, however, was not the part of the 2018 midterms that changed my life.
I still don’t know exactly how I first found out about Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for Texas Senator. It was probably just a random headline, or maybe a tweet. Whatever it was, I was hooked. In the weeks leading up to the election, I read dozens of articles, watched hours of YouTube analyses and listened to more podcasts than I had in my entire life. Checking polling averages turned into part of my morning routine.
The thought that a politician I’d never heard of could flip the state of Texas to vote for a Democratic senator was astounding. My fixation on O’Rourke’s campaign soon turned into an obsession with every high-stakes campaign that cycle. For the first time, I saw that politics wasn’t just federal policies and presidential elections. It was personal relationships, strategic messaging, and most of all, it was exciting.
On election night, a handful of friends, my roommate and I squeezed onto the futon under my lofted bed to watch the results come in. We watched in amazement as John King seemingly knew every county and district in the country. I cheered when my preferred candidate won my district. Even though O’Rourke lost his race for Texas Senator, I ended election night feeling elated. I felt a gut reaction as I went to bed that night; I needed to follow elections for the rest of my life.
That week, I declared my politics major.
At the time, I was already a declared journalism major, but I knew I wanted to double major with something else. Until election night, I had no idea what that something else was. The midterm election showed me that politics was not just history and constitutional procedure. Politics—especially elections—are fast-paced and strategic. Unlike ever before, politics turned into something constantly on my mind. Since I’ve declared my major, I’ve taken classes in public opinion and polling, congressional processes, political theory and so much more.
The best part about loving politics, at least in Des Moines, Iowa, is participating in the Iowa Caucuses. Luckily for me, the 2020 Caucus season was over a year-long with over twenty candidates. Somehow, I managed to see almost every single candidate. Even though I couldn’t manage to snap a photo with all of them, I was able to hear their strategies in talking with voters.
On election night, I found myself reflecting on the night two years ago when I first realized politics was what I wanted to study. Politics is messy, it’s weird and nothing ever goes quite the way you think. That’s what I find the most interesting. And, as what has felt like a never-ending election season finally comes to a close, it’s hard not to already miss the chaos and excitement that comes along with it.