At the start of college, I was always a politically minded student. But it wasn't until my sophomore year that I started getting involved in local politics around Arizona and political clubs and organizations such as Turning Point USA and Young Americans for Liberty at ASU.
I would end up becoming an intern for the Arizona Republican Party and heavily canvassed for the special election in April of 2018 which resulted in Republican candidate Debbie Lesko winning by 5 points.
Afterward, I canvassed for a few local campaigns and elections across Tempe until I found my first political work outside the party that summer with the 2020 Victory Center, which focused on social media work to help conservative candidates.
During my time canvassing, I was going to school full time and I had a job that took 20-30 hours of my time. On top of that, I would also canvass for this election three times a week, which was about an hour drive from school with traffic and then a 50-minute drive home. During this whole time, I was never once paid by the AZ GOP for my labor.
I didn't think about it at the time — but the state party is guilty of using free labor from college students.
"We're doing a lot of hard labor, we're going out there in the hot Arizona weather, we're making all these calls and we're not getting paid for it," said Brittney Fulop, a junior studying psychology and a former intern for both the 2016 John McCain Senate campaign and the state GOP.
At a time when 43% of full-time students and 81% of part-time of students are working while attending school, it's unrealistic to expect all, or even most, of these students to maintain good grades in class, work and canvass for state parties for free in order to gain "experience," so they could potentially have a paid political job in the future.
"I wish it were different, but at the same time they are running a business and if they can get free labor, of course, they're going to look for it and try and get it," said Fulop.
This is not just criticism of the Republican Party. According to a congressional research report, Republicans in both the U.S. House and Senate actually were more likely to offer paid internship positions.
51% of Republican senators offered paid internships, while only 31% of Democratic senators paid their interns in 2017, according to the report by payourinterns.com. In the House, 8% of Republicans offered paid intern positions, while only 3.6% of Democrats paid their interns.
"The only time I got paid for political work was back at home … but nothing at ASU," said Alexander Queiroz, a junior studying biological sciences, and a member of ASU Young Democrats.
While Republicans in a sense are better at paying their interns, both parties still use the current system in place to take advantage of students and use them for free labor. Students who want to be involved politically should not have to rely on this current system to find work.
"I know people in Young Democrats want to be paid ... but they (have) accepted that they won't be," said Queiroz.
For both major sides of the political spectrum, there are always paid opportunities for work in politics without having to resort to canvassing for free. In my experience, I have never done political work outside the party that did not offer compensation.
"Finding work somewhere else is probably better because you are working with people who are experienced and getting paid," said Fulop.
Right-leaning groups such as Americans for Prosperity offer paid work and benefits for full-time employees, and left-leaning groups like Organizing Corps 2020 also offer paid stipends for their interns. The School of Politics and Global Studies has a Facebook internship page that often shares paid opportunities for students seeking to go into the field of politics.
Paid work and internships are out there for ASU students. When students are deciding whether or not to work for state parties for free, they should universally say no to getting exploited.
Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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